anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Posts Tagged ‘Food

Simran Sethi

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“Empower women and we all do better.”

-Simran Sethi

Journalist, writer, podcaster, speaker, professor: Simran Sethi is many things.

Her work centers around food, sustainability and social change, and whether she’s penning an article about bees for the Smithsonian, podcasting about chocolate, or speaking at a conference, whatever medium she uses, she is committed to connecting with people.

In 2015 she published an excellent book titled Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. That book is ever more topical given the recent United Nations report on the shrinking biodiversity and the risk for global food and agriculture. For example: while 6,000 plant species are cultivated for food, just nine of them account for two-thirds of all crop production. If we don’t prioritize biodiversity and conservation, we are in risk of a serious crisis.

Sethi and I have only met in person once, but thanks to this thing we call the Internet, we have been able to cultivate a friendship. I have a deep respect for the work that she does, and over the course of knowing her, I have discovered many of the commonalities that we share. We had a long conversation last summer, and I only recently got around to transcribing it.

It was so refreshing to listen to it after all this time, the things that we talked about are still relevant and I found myself appreciating this new dose of wisdom from her.

Who is Simran Sethi?

I’m a writer and I’m a professor of journalism and have been a podcast and broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker. I’ve had a number of different designations, but all of them at their very core are about creating something. For me the act of creation is one very specific intention of helping people make better decisions in their lives, providing the kind of information that will support some small or large level of transformation.

You told me that a woman who you shared an apartment with when you were teaching in Rome last summer referred to you as an artist, and that you really appreciated that. Why do you think you haven’t referred to yourself as an artist?

I’m still pretty new to referring to myself as a writer. It has taken me a long time to do that. I mean, even after a major house published my book, I would apologetically and sheepishly say, “I wrote a book.” Probably it comes from very early on in my childhood. My family and I immigrated from Germany, but my parents are of Indian origin. As far back as I can remember, my father gave me five job choices: teacher, lawyer, engineer, doctor, or scholar. My mom encouraged actual artistic creativity in my sister, but I was the bookish one, with glasses at age six, reading a lot. I didn’t see myself as, A: someone who a was creative, or B: was allowed to be creative.

It’s so interesting to me that so many people say “I’m not creative,” even though it’s not a thing that we inherently have or don’t have. It’s something that we can work on. Everyone gets to be creative, no matter whether you’re an engineer or an illustrator. I wonder what it is that’s kept us from embracing that culturally.

I think it even ties in to the notion of a storyteller. Certain people claim that mantle, but we all are telling stories every day. Like I write in my book, we’re made of story. I firmly believe that: we’re engaged in creative acts every day. Whether it’s a spreadsheet, a book or a loaf of bread. We can look to the age of rationalism and philosophers like Descartes, and I can’t really go too far down that road, but I think there’s something there separating out an artist from a thinker, as if these things are mutually exclusive. They are not, they are embedded in each other.

When you think of the word wisdom, what does it mean to you?

The first idea that comes to mind is roots going deep. And the distinction I would make between being smart and being wise. Wisdom feels like a grounded knowledge, being centered and steadier in yourself. To describe someone as wise, to me is to describe someone who is not only knowledgeable about the world, but has a deep relationship with their inner world.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece, or sense, of wisdom that you can remember?

It sounds a bit cliche, but the person who has done this the most, is my mother, with little dust bunnies of wisdom. So much of how I felt about recent decisions that I have made have been elevated by her support. I live a pretty nomadic existence, and there’s a part of that absence of a singular home that feels weird and ungrounded. My mom reminds me how remarkable these decisions are, how lucky I am, how her life would have been so different if she had been allowed to make different kinds of decisions. Her feedback and insights have been really reaffirming for me.

How do you stay grounded within that existence?

I’ll share with you what I share with my mother, to reassure her: I have to find “home” within myself. I used to be a labor support doula, helping women during childbirth. When you’re actually birthing, you’re not moving, you’re birthing, right? You’re walking around ahead of time, you’re rocking or on your hands and knees or doing whatever you do. But in the moment when you’re pushing that life into the world, you’re stationary.

It’s a little bit difficult to drop down into my creative work when I am moving; I have to find still points. And I also know the movement feeds the work. In many cases, it is the work: taking in the world and bringing it back to my respective audiences – whether in print or on a podcast.

I feel like that constantly, that I need solitude and stillness to create the work, but I need movement to inspire the work. That is a tough balance to find.

Exactly. It’s dynamic. So many things feed us. It’s a gift. And, at the same time, I occasionally – rarely now but still – feel like, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live a calmer, contained life?” To pick the kids up from soccer, to make dinner with the husband, et cetera.

I have been thinking a lot about what women have to contribute. And I was thinking about all of your work in chocolate, meeting women on the ground. What are some of maybe the old traditions are wisdoms that they have that can help to move us forward in a sustainable way?

Women have a much harder time getting access to capital and land. Yet, they’re the ones who, with whatever money they earn, do a much better job at sustaining the household. It’s just so simple, right? Empower women and we all do better, our entire society will be better. If you give women access to education, credit, work, leadership positions, things will be better.

There’s this one collective of women farmers I met in Dominican Republic who make chocolate. I referenced then in a story I wrote for Yes! magazine. All they wanted was be treated the way the men were and to earn enough money to have some agency in decisions in around their families. Some of them are farmers, but they’ve now also moved into making this value added product, chocolate. The way I saw them take care of each other at the conference where we met, and what I learned about how their role in their communities were being elevated as they were seen as business people. It was quite inspiring.

From a global perspective, women feed us. We grow the crops, we make decisions around food purchases and make the food. We nourish. But these acts have also been taken from us. Women were the first people who made beer – they were called “ale wives” – women were the first to make farmhouse cheese, and so on. It’s only when these kinds of drinks and foods become commodities – when it’s taken away from the province of the home – that they seem to accrue value.

I want to continue to be somebody who calls attention to that and does whatever I can to help shift perceptions around who – and what – women are. I don’t fully know how that will play out but it starts, I think, with what you’re doing: elevating women’s voices.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

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Written by Anna Brones

March 8, 2019 at 06:43

‘Extra Helping’ – a Cookbook for Caring Through Food (Preorder)

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Last year I was very honored to be asked to create papercut illustrations for a cookbook. That cookbook is out next month and I can’t wait for it to be born into the world. Extra Helping: Recipes for Caring, Connecting, and Building Community One Dish at a Time by Janet Reich Elsbach is a beautiful collection of recipes and essays, all based around the idea that food is caring.

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Written by Anna Brones

October 15, 2018 at 11:53

Marion Nestle

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“Food choices are about your future and that of your children.

They are about nothing less than democracy in action.”

-Marion Nestle

Marion Nestle is one of the leading thinkers and activists when it comes to nutrition and food politics. In fact it’s hard to do any reading or research about food politics without coming across her name.

She is the author of several books, including Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health and the most recent Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).In October, she will release her latest book: Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We EatShe is Paulette Goddard Professor, of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Emerita, at New York University, which she chaired from 1988-2003 and from which she retired in the end of 2017.

There was a point in my life when I debated on applying to NYU’s Master’s Program in Food Studies (a program she pioneered), just so that I could have the opportunity to have Marion as a teacher. And while I never got around to that, she has kindly answered various interview questions of mine over the course of many years as I have written about food and nutrition myself.

The quote that I decided to use for her portrait is from her book What to EatThe book was originally published in 2006. That feels like an eternity ago when it comes to food politics. After all, it feels like a lot has changed in our conversation about food over the last decade. There are many more options at the grocery store, and the conversation about health has begun to shift to not only our personal self, but that of the environment and the workers who put food on our table.

And yet despite some of the progress that we have made, we still face many of the same problems, and some have gotten worse. Over the last decade, obesity rates have jumped. In 2007-2008, the CDC reported that 33.8% of American adults were obese. For the period of 2015-2016, that number grew to 39.8%. Food insecurity has grown a small amount as well; today 12.3% of American households are food insecure, compared to 10.9% in 2006. Some of us may have easier access to things like farmers markets, and yet, independent farmers are struggling; in the U.S. the suicide rate is double that of veterans. Systemic racism and economic inequities continue to plague the food system.

In researching this piece, I came across an interview with Marion on Civil Eats, taking a look back at her three decades of work and what has changed and what hasn’t. It’s a reminder that even when it comes to our conversation about food, the basics are still the same.

I went into nutrition in 1976. And everybody was saying, I remember quite vividly, “We want you to teach this nutrition class because there’s so much public interest in it.”

Three books had just come out. Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet, which is still in print, was cataclysmic in its impact. I mean, think about what she talked about in 1975: Eat less meat, and it’ll be good for health and the environment. You know, we’re still right there. 

So what’s keeping this from truly moving forward? The combination of a food and agribusiness industry that’s about high profits and high margins that don’t consider things like human and environmental health, and the political policies that are at the base of that system. Real change requires industry, infrastructural and political change.

That feels overwhelming. But what we as citizens do have control of on a daily basis is what we put into our bodies, and I keep coming back to Marion’s quote from What to Eat. Not everyone has the luxury of making choices about food, but for those of us who do, they are a way to take daily action. What we eat matters, to both ourselves and our communities.

Marion continues to be a resource yet she always provides a fresh voice. She updates her Food Politics blog regularly, and as someone who cares strongly about food and the food system, for me, she is a constant source of inspiration and wisdom.

She kindly answered a few Women’s Wisdom Project Q&A questions.

Anna: What does wisdom mean to you?

Marion: Wisdom to me means knowing enough about people and history to make thoughtful decisions about daily life.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

A dean in my high school assured me that I would have a much better time as an adult.

We have been eating food for all of human history, and yet today, it seems like these days we need specialists to inform us what we should and shouldn’t eat. Do you think that we have lost our common sense in regards to what we eat? If so, why?

The food industry spends fortunes to convince us that our common sense is wrong.  It’s hard to resist that kind of propaganda.

When it comes to food and food production, as we have modernized, what wisdom do you think that we have lost?

If we are to eat well in the future, we must grow food sustainably, replenish soil, preserve water quality, and do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What do you see as the future of food?

No matter how many of us there are, we will still need to eat.  We must plan for that.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

Courage!

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

June 27, 2018 at 07:05

Sliced Rye and Almond Pepparkakor

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Growing up, we always made a recipe out of the classic Swedish baking book Sju sorters kakor, called Franska pepparkakor, French gingersnaps, for Christmas. Why they were French I am not entirely sure. I have lived in France and never encountered anything similar.

A more apt name is skurna pepparkor, sliced gingersnaps. I like making these because they take much less time than rolling out and cutting traditional pepparkakor but still use the same iconic seasonal spices. This year, I adapted the recipe to be a little less sweet and also be made with 100% rye flour. I like making whole grain cookies, because they are far more robust in flavor than baking with traditional all-purpose flour.

These cookies are great on their own, but also pair very well with a little blue cheese. And a mug of glögg of course.

Sliced Rye and Almond Pepparkakor

Ingredients:

1 cup (5 ounces, 140 grams) almonds, coarsely chopped
1 cup (8 ounces, 225 grams) butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (1.75 ounces, 50 gram) sugar
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) molasses
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
4 teaspoons cardamom
2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon black pepper
Zest of one orange
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups (8.75 ounces, 250 grams) rye flour

Preparation:

Chop the almonds and set them aside.

Cream the butter, sugar and molasses, then mix in the spices and orange zest until well blended.

Mix the baking soda with the flour, then add to the wet ingredients. Work the dough together (it will be quite sticky).

Form the dough into cylinders, about 12 inches long and wrap in parchment paper or a tea towel. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Note: the dough lasts for a few days in the refrigerator so if you don’t get around to baking them right away it’s totally fine.)

Grease a baking tray and cut dough into thin slices. Place the slices on the tray and bake at 375ºF (180ºC) for 10 to 12 minutes.The cookies don’t spread out very much, so you can put them pretty close to each other.

Written by Anna Brones

December 22, 2017 at 07:36

Using Food to Change the Thanksgiving Narrative

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For many of us, our associations with Thanksgiving are mostly about food. Cranberries, pumpkin pies, stuffing and all those other things that turns the food media world into a seasonal frenzy of recipes and roundups. It’s a holiday where we’re encouraged to gather with our friends and family and be thankful, showing gratitude for what’s on the table and the people we share it with.

These are admirable ideals, however when we talk about Thanksgiving, share iconic recipes, gather around the table, we avoid the harsh reality of a holiday with a dark past, one of slavery, plague and massacres. At its core, Thanksgiving is a story of genocide, and instead of facing that reality, it’s a holiday that we have chosen to mythologize, erasing real stories and people along the way. Instead of the truth, the false narrative around Thanksgiving allows us to focus on the easy stuff, in the form of “10 Best Pie Crusts” and “25 Creative Stuffing Ideas You Never Thought Of.

“Food media at large still won’t touch the imperialist implications of Thanksgiving with a ten foot pole bc it’s more profitable to pub stuffing listicles,” wrote Racist Sandwich a few weeks ago on Twitter.

I thought about that comment a lot, pondering the importance and weight of food media in addressing cultural history as well as today’s realities. Food is an excellent lens for looking at important topics like gender, race and culture, and in that sense, the food hype over Thanksgiving seems like a massively missed opportunity to highlight the true story and its modern day implications. Avoiding the conversation about the true roots of Thanksgiving means perpetuating the injustice.

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Written by Anna Brones

November 22, 2017 at 13:25

“Protest Fuel: The Revolution Must Be Fed” – Benefit Zine

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Protest Fuel: The Revolution Must Be Fed

In January 2017 (just in time for the Million Women’s March) my friend Caitlin and I will be releasing Protest Fuel: The Revolution Must Be Fed. We are currently wrapping up the final design so that we can send it to the printer right after the new year.

No matter who we are or here we live, we must eat. Food is something that unites us. With that in mind, I wanted to use food as a catalyst for change. Protest Fuel is a collection of recipes, essays, artwork and quotes, all with the goal of inspiring you to take action, whether that’s by hosting a comforting soup night or getting out on the frontlines in a protest.

The zine itself is will be printed in January 2017 in Seattle by Girlie Press. All of the contributors to this zine have volunteered their recipes, stories and time, and for that I am very grateful.

I wanted this zine to benefit a cause, but how to choose? There is no way to choose. There are so many issues that are important right now. I have chosen to donate 100% of the proceeds to the Women’s Environment and Development Organization. When women thrive, so does society. Without the environment we have nothing. As one of the WEDO founders Vandana Shiva once said, “In nature’s economy the currency is not money, it is life.” I hope that this zine inspires you to choose life, to be active within your own communities, and to support the people and initiatives committed to positive change.

You can preorder Protest Fuel: The Revolution Must Be Fed here.

Written by Anna Brones

December 29, 2016 at 16:57

This Week’s Stories: Textile and Coffee Waste, Sustainable Beer and Taking Action

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domestic-stencilworks_processpic

Here is some of my work published this week:

Coffee Waste or Product Potential? – This story was featured in the print edition of Fresh Cup but is also up online. “Wast is simply resources in the wrong place,” says Daniel Crockett of Bio-Bean. I love that sentiment, because it challenges us to rethink what we assume is, or isn’t, something with potential.

10 Fashion Brands Innovating with Textile Waste – Speaking of waste, I also wrote a piece on textile waste. Did you know that in just 20 years, our textile waste has doubled? Today the average American discards around 70 pounds of textiles per year, the majority of it ending up in landfills. Fortunately, there are some innovators out there attempting to do something with it.

Patagonia is Making a Sustainable Kernza Beer – Patagonia, long known for its apparel, is moving into the food space. I love their efforts in working to build a better food system, and the new Long Ale beer is just another example.

Food, Agriculture and Environmental Organizations and Independent Media Outlets You Can Give To – If you’re looking for places to support this holiday season (and places whose work is very needed in the current political climate), I put together a roundup of some food and environment related organizations and media outlets over on Foodie Underground. There’s also an essay about caring (which includes a recipe for pumpkin oatmeal pudding) if you’re interested.

And finally, these weren’t written by me, but I was happy to have Hello, Bicycle mentioned in this list of presents for women cycling fans, as well as this mention of Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break in Condeé Nast Traveller.

Image: Domestic Stencilworks

Written by Anna Brones

November 18, 2016 at 12:08