March 27, 2009

Question & Answer With Jill Richardson

Center for a Livable Future

Center for a Livable Future

Jill Richardson is the creator of La Vida Locavore and is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. She also is a contributing blogger for Sustainable Food, which is a part of Change.org.

Find out in this 5 minute Q & A how a 20-something with a day job in software has gained influence in politics, been read by Congressional staffers and made a mark in the sustainable agriculture movement.

Center for a Livable Future: How did you get into the sustainable agriculture movement?

Jill Richardson: It happened gradually, and then suddenly. For a long time I had been interested in environmental causes, and following the 2004 election I became a lot more passionate. Obviously a lot of environmental news centered around food. But then in January 2006, my job sent me to work in a cardiac ICU in Hawaii for a week and that really drove the message home to me. Oh. My. God. Look what we are doing to ourselves with our diets!!! That was it for me – when I came home, I was a full-fledged foodie.

CLF: You are publishing your first book, Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It, which shows how sustainable agriculture offers a solution to the food crisis in the U.S.  Can you expand on some of your suggestions?

JR: I think the broader picture is that we need to make sure that all Americans can have a living wage and access to affordable health care, in addition to a number of other large scale changes (re-regulate the financial industry?) that will allow people to have enough money, time, and health to obtain and prepare sustainable food. Without that, no amount of farmers markets or CSAs could solve our problems. But in the meantime, we can do quite a bit for our food system, and that’s what the book lays out. I didn’t attempt to re-create the wheel, just, perhaps, consolidate and explain the wheel. We have so many disparate groups and movements working on their own unique (or shared) initiatives and it’s hard for anyone who’s just getting into food policy to understand what the issues are and how to take action. I broke my recommendations into the categories of: Labeling, Protecting Children, the Farm Bill, Food Safety, and Human and Animal Rights. My hope is that people interested in food issues can read the book and understand how the food system operates as a system -and how we need to fix it as a system, not in the little silos we often treat it as with animal rights over here on one side and food safety over there, even though they are inextricably linked.

CLF: This is a broad question, but in your opinion, what should the average person be thinking about in terms of food?

JR: I think Michael Pollan stole my answer 🙂 Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Well, I’m stealing it from him, not the other way around. But that certainly DOES sum up my thoughts even if I would have never found such a clever way to say it myself. And don’t be afraid of your food! I was raised in a household where food was the enemy. We ate all kinds of processed garbage – but only the low fat, low calorie varieties of processed garbage (like Snackwell’s cookies), in small servings and with lots of guilt. That’s no way to live, or to eat! Food should be enjoyed.

CLF: What is the major takeaway(s) you hope readers gain?

JR: I hope they come to see the government as accessible and easy to get involved in. Because it is. Surprisingly so. From the comfort of your home, you can watch Congressional hearings, call offices, speak to staffers, and actually get your opinion heard. Last summer I accompanied a friend lobbying a state government and we just walked around the Capitol, knocked on office doors, and chatted up various staff people. One of the representatives invited us into is office and we sat down and talked for maybe 20 minutes, and he was extremely interested in our issues – even though we were liberals and he was a very conservative Republican. Yet a lot of times I hear people who are represented by Republicans say they don’t even bother writing to them because they don’t expect to be heard.

CLF: Any shout-outs to bloggers or local farmers?

JR: Right now I’m especially loving my friend Phil at Sage Mountain Farm for the delicious pasture-raised eggs he gave me, and Barry from La Milpa Organica for the heirloom spinach I’m putting in my omelets 🙂

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