By Annette Nielsen and Alexina Cather, MPH
During Women’s History Month, it’s wonderful to be able to showcase women who stand out in the food world in a variety of ways. The women you’ll read about here, represent some of New York City’s best farmers and producers, non-profit leaders, policy makers, educators, dietitians, chefs, entrepreneurs, writers and academics. These leaders are respected and celebrated as being big thinkers and doers with smart ideas and nimble responses to how we can keep our food system functioning and serving the most vulnerable in these unprecedented times.
Please join us in celebrating them and their important work, learning about who inspires them, and hearing their thoughts and hopes for the future, when we are once again able to share meals around a large table with friends, extended family and co-workers.
Title/Organization or Company: Executive Director, Community Food Advocates
Background/Education: I have worked on public policy issues relating to poverty and hunger since 1991 on the city, state and federal levels. I am a policy person deeply interested and engaged in coalition-building and organizing. I am a proud alum of Brooklyn College.
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? Liz Krueger and Guida West
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? We work on changing big systems that have a big impact. That takes time, creativity, strategy, partnerships and the ability to work on the immediate while also focusing on the long view.
What is your future hope for women in food? It feels like we have been in a moment of broader awareness of food issues. Women have been at the forefront. I hope that continues to build.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Fundamental to the food challenges brought by the coronavirus are the staggering rates of poverty and huge income gap in New York City. There are New Yorkers who can secure two weeks of emergency provisions with little effort. At the same time there is an ever-growing number of people who have no idea where their next meal is coming from. This is a long-standing problem and needs a bold, multidimensional approach.
Title/Organization or Company: Manhattan Borough President
Background/Education: I have an MPA, Harvard Kennedy School of Government and undergraduate degrees from Columbia University and Bennington College.
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? Ruth Messinger (I was her Chief of Staff for 12 years.)
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Doing enough on the issues I care about.
Title/Organization or Company: Founder, Emma’s Torch
Background/Education: Princeton University (BA), Johns Hopkins University (MA), Institute of Culinary Education (Culinary Arts)
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? My grandmother has inspired me throughout my career. She is the first person who taught me how to cook, and she continues to challenge and motivate me.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? The resilience to manage the present crisis. This crisis is an inflection point for the culinary community.
What is your future hope for women in food? Long term, I hope that the industry as a whole will be a source of equity and inclusion.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? At this time the industry needs support and guidance at the city, state, and federal level. I hope that the planned relief will prioritize the needs of workers and small businesses owners.
Title/Organization or Company: Founder and Owner; Cleaver Co, The Green Table, The Green Bottle, Table Green and Table Green Café, and Green Table Farms
Background/Education: Bennington College, BA, 1976, Ceramics & Painting
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? Frances Moore Lappé, Joan Gussow, Alice Waters, Wangari Mathai, my children, Anna Lappé, Elizabeth Balkan, Annie Novak, Kathleen Finlay, Bina Venkataraman and women of the Pleiades Network, Rachel Schneider, Karen Weinberg, Leah Penniman, Ora Wise, Margot Pollan, are among many who have been inspirational; Miriam Brickman, Nora Pouillon, Hilary Baum and Joanne Phillips have been mentors.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Working in a food system that devalues the true cost of healthy, good, clean and fair food that is produced with respect for workers as well as the interdependency of humanity and nature. The economic disparity between the costs of running a food business based on healthy food from farms, versus supporting/sourcing from industrial agriculture products. The economic disparity between the costs of running a small business versus the subsidies and support for Big Business and Big Ag that devalues people and our relationship to the natural world.
What is your future hope for women in food? That women are in more positions of leadership and political power in government, and food and ag policy. My hope is that the natural intelligence, cooperative and life-giving spirit that women so often display with respect for the earth to healthy nutrition at every table comes to prevail in our government and throughout the food system.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Greenmarkets/Farmer’s markets must stay open. SNAP/Foodbucks benefits must be made available to all who need them without qualification and with double value for local farm products.
All undocumented workers throughout the food system should be granted work permits and immediate eligibility for all benefits including unemployment and health care.
More federal funds must be made available to rebuild/build infrastructure for small and mid-size farmers, fishers and ranchers, including processing facilities, food hubs and distribution, to support the regional food and farm economy. Small and midsize farms, especially those operated by tribal nations, farmers of color, and farmers practicing regenerative agriculture must be supported by USDA grants and zero interest loans to continue production. All farms practicing ecologically sound regenerative agriculture should be funded to convert to wind and solar power.
Title/Organization or Company: Executive Director and Co-Founder, Wellness in the Schools
Background/Education: Masters of Education from Bank Street College of Education, an Administration and Supervision certification from Fordham University, Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University (also a three-sport athlete) and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Before founding Wellness in the Schools, I spent 15 years as a teacher, mentor, and school leader with the New York City Department of Education.
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? I am inspired daily by the women (and men) who work in school kitchens across the country. Link here for more on that.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Change is slow. Wellness in the Schools has the big, bold vision to end childhood obesity, and those statistics are not moving in the right direction fast enough. The daily victories keep me going, but I am impatient, and change is not happening fast enough.
What is your future hope for women in food? When I think of women in food I think of the 35 female chefs who have chosen a career of service with Wellness in the Schools that brings their skills to schools and to children across the country. They work in partnership with the millions of “lunch ladies” who today are risking their own lives to make sure their “babies” are fed. From my point of view, this is what women in food look like today, and my hope is that we take care of these women, many of whom go home to families or second jobs to make ends meet. I see a future where we have more federal funding to provide longer hours, to hire more school cooks, and to implement more training and better support structures.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? The most immediate step that must be taken today is the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to ensure that all eligible families have access to school meals and SNAP benefits.
Long-term, we need to start looking at food standards vs. nutrient standards. And then, to my point above, increase funding for ingredients, training and hours for school cooks – all to support the preparation of freshly made meals. We are in a pandemic in a time when we are already sick, with high rates of obesity and diabetes. We will need to double-down on our efforts to support healthier school lunch options so that we can address the diet-related health issues that will persist long after our current pandemic resolves.
Title/Organization or Company: Chef, Foodivist + Community Organizer. Founder, Happy Healthy Latina
Background/Education: Natural Foods Chef, Holistic Health Coach, The Natural Gourmet Institute. Institute For Integrative Nutrition
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? There isn’t a single person or inspiration. I count myself blessed and lucky for being able to say that. At different times in my life I’ve had really strong loving and guiding matriarchal figures in my life. Ancestral protective giants like my grandmother Dalila Guzman, who started a school in the Dominican Republic with my grandfather and literally fought against a communist regime, Trujillo, with education and poetry as tools of progression and empowerment in their community. My great grandmother, who lived until she was 99 and I was 16, taught me to treasure farmlands and peel sugar cane straight from the field. My mother, who immigrated here at 18, taught me our family’s Sofrito recipe that I’ve now taught to thousands of New Yorkers. I call those three women the holy trinity who formed me .
As I’ve grown up, there have also been formidable women in food, farming, civil and labor rights movements including Dolores Huerta, Alice Waters, Marion Nestle, Evelina Lopez Antonetty and Fannie Lou Hamer, whose stories, perseverance and legacies have informed the work I do. Finally, I would be remiss If i didn’t mention that I am inspired daily by the amazing community of diverse women I know who are just doing the work, relentlessly showing up and lifting us up in the process–women like Karen Washington, Leah Penniman, Claire Raffel, Dr. Pam Koch and the countless fierce educators, activists, food workers, farmers and policy makers that weave this matrix.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? I think as a young woman of color existing in this world there are universal plights put on us that deeply intersect with the food field so we have to come in swinging and take leadership roles. Working in food and carving my own path to be a chef for my community, at the intersection of food equity, access and empowerment hasn’t been much different.
We need a deep push for increase in racial, ethnic and gender diversity in the field of food and nutrition, especially in leadership roles. At times the silence feels deafening, and I wish that more people stepped up to become allies and advocates. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” I think now more than ever we can all agree.
What is your future hope for women in food? That our voices be heard, respected, empowered, validated and supported as we forge trails and pathways across all sectors and positions in food that indelibly impact our world. A woman’s place is wherever she decides it is, period. So if it’s in the kitchen, on the farm, in the boardroom, the classroom or the courtroom, we merit equal slices of the pie and seats at the table, not just the ones tasked with cleaning up.
Also, we need to create more concrete and substantial pathways of mentorship within the food industry, farming, and the food justice movement in order to nurture young women and allow them to connect in a non-competitive way, to be protected and empowered as they navigate their own journeys.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Ah, so many thoughts! We all have our passions, and, of course, food is mine. However, when you are crafting legislation, I think you have to pull back and think about the big picture–how a society or the world is impacted. There are key social and physical determinants of health, such as being able to secure the resources to meet your family’s basic needs, access to education and healthcare, public safety, living-wage jobs, access to fresh, affordable and quality food etc.
Hunger and food access/apartheid, diet related illnesses these are all poverty-related diseases aiding and abbetting one another. My wish during this COVID-19 pandemic would be access to truly free universal healthcare and a guarantee of immediate wages for those affected with a continued commitment as long as this lasts, direct bailout for the people before or concurrently with businesses. Roughly 1.5 billion people worldwide have been asked to stay home. That means deep economic dislocation. If you don’t have a place to live or electricity or are yourself sick or have a family member with health issues who depends on you, food is a high priority but maybe not your first concern. Improving those conditions will have a deep impact on the food system and quality of life overall.
Title/Organization or Company: Founder and CEO, Matriark Foods
Background/Education: Anna has had a diverse career spanning leadership positions in the arts, politics, community organizing and education, scaling programs and teams into dynamic, stable, and endowed organizations. Most recently, she was Executive Director for The Sylvia Center, a trail blazing food-education program that, under her leadership, collaborated with farmers, institutions, funders, and foundations committed to solving food insecurity through education and reimagined food systems. Together they expanded healthy eating and cooking programs in public housing community centers in all five NYC boroughs and all six school districts in Columbia County.
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? My senior high school English teacher, Sue Schapiro, one of three female faculty in the entire school, who taught me how to write and rewrite until what I had on paper was clear and strong; John Walsh, director emeritus of the Getty Museum, who taught me how to build a financially sustainable program while encouraging staff to continue to grow and flourish; and my grandmothers, who could always stretch a meal and make it delicious.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Funding. As women, we still have a long way to go with investors. Only 7 percent of venture funds go to female-founded startups despite the fact that women-founded businesses outperform their male counterparts by 63 percent.
What is your future hope for women in food? That eventually we will lead the transformation of the food system not only in spirit but in environmental and financial success.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Increase budgets and diversified supply chains for school and hospital food so that when a crisis hits, systems for producing and distributing nutritious food for large numbers of people are already in place. Increase funding for innovative women-owned businesses and production facilities that support large-scale and diversified and sustainable agriculture and added-value healthy shelf-stable products that give people the nutrition and strength they need during good times and bad.
Title/Organization or Company: Senior Editor Food & Wine, and Founder, Chefs with Issues
Background/Education: I did my BFA as a double major in painting and sculpture and my MFA in metalsmithing. I worked as an art director and copywriter until a sudden switch to being a food editor at age 34, and never could have imagined that.
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? I’ve been so lucky to have the counsel of generous, incredible women since the start, and I am especially grateful to Dana Cowin and Dorothy Kalins for always being my champions, offering tough and necessary counsel, and being role models of grace and ethical behavior.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? I live with mental health issues (depression, anxiety, ADHD, panic disorder) and it’s difficult to sit and focus and accomplish everything I want to sometimes, and that’s frustrating. I also realize that being about to talk about it and make this less of a taboo is something that is a privilege that I hope with all my heart will be the norm for everyone someday.
What is your future hope for women in food? I hope we can get to a place where no one has to work in a condition of fear. Where there is parity in pay, those who want to can have children, where harassment and assault are a thing of the very distant past, and where there are no “female chef” awards needed.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Universal healthcare NOW, regardless of documentation status. The food industry would not exist without the often backbreaking labor of immigrants and it’s time to take care of the people who keep us fed. It’s just the right thing to do for humanity.
Title/Organization or Company: Executive Director, Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Program in Nutrition, Teachers College, Columbia University
Background/Education: While I was an extremely picky eater as a child, I always loved teaching people about food and health. I majored in nutrition, and worked hard to become a veggie lover, and never turned back.
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? I have three. Joan Gussow taught me to see the limits to growth and to become a systems thinker. Isobel Contento lit my passion for nutrition educator and research. Toni Liquori taught me the importance of good school meals, and to believe every step forward matters.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Too many amazing projects, and not knowing how to say no.
What is your future hope for women in food? That woman can gain control of the food system so it is more regenerative for the planet, communities, and for our health.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Provide financial and technical support to farmers who want to transition from conventional commodity crops to organic vegetables, and create food hubs so these vegetables can be distributed to child nutrition programs.
Title/Organization or Company: Executive Chef of The Teaching Kitchen at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House
Background/Education: BA Philosophy, LSU, Culinary Arts degree New York Restaurant School, Restaurateur, Farmer, Teacher
Career Mentor/Inspiration: Frances Moore Lappé. I read “Diet for a Small Planet” in 1971 and for me she has been the single most important voice in changing the way Americans eat and think about food. She was arguing in 1971 for a largely plant-based diet for the planet and exposing the harmful link among American meat production, increased societal consumption, and environmental degradation. She’s written 19 books about how to create a healthy food system and a healthy democracy. For 50 years she has said that a grain-fed, meat-centered diet is not the real problem, but a symptom of a deep systemic problem in our democracy. Lappé says, “If we had a real democracy, if the agribusiness industry and the meat producers didn’t have the political wherewithal they do, then we could really talk.”
What is your biggest challenge working in this field? I think the biggest challenge in the Farm to Institution movement is that organizations and individuals that work in them believe that they don’t have the power to change the mainstream American diet. Individual and organizational choices can have huge political power and health impact. Where we all spend our food dollars is possibly one of the most political acts we have. Everyone needs to be aware of this power and understand the importance of it.
What is your future hope for women in food? My hope is that women recognize their own ability and unique power to use their incredible wisdom and intelligence to make the necessary changes we need to see in our food system for improved public health.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? I have thought for several years that NYC should create a city-wide program to promote the health of the city, it’s people and the regional foodshed. It should be branded and be on every bus and subway car with a website, nutrition information, resources, recipes, cooking classes at every school, farmer’s market, and public place possible.
BUT, as for right now during the corona virus pandemic, we should have policy in place to support and promote regional food procurement and healthy farming practices. We should have distribution systems in place to maximize the ability of local food to reach the city and be utilized by individual consumers and institutions who are cooking for clients during this current crisis.
Title/Organization or Company: Director, The Mayor’s Office of Food Policy
Background/Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University; Master’s Degree in Public Health Nutrition, Columbia University
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? Many years ago a friend told me that I was on her personal Board of Directors. I loved that concept and for the past 10 or so years have had an informal Board of Directors that I use to help hold myself accountable to my goals and values.
I attribute Joan Gussow, the legendary Teachers College professor of nutritional ecology who completely shifted my world view about the necessity to have a broader, deeper understanding of the relationship of food to agriculture and nutrition to food systems.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Band-aid solutions to intractable problems — organizational reluctance and leadership fear and overwhelm at taking initiative to understand and to address the root causes of structural problems in crafting solutions.
What is your future hope for women in food? I would like to see parity of gender in organizational leadership — more women in positions of power and influence — who are valued for their contributions both as women and as equal leaders in thought and action.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? It’s too soon to tell, frankly because the realities change daily. What’s abundantly clear for me is the need to ensure a strong and resilient workforce across the food system, especially in the most underpaid and vulnerable food jobs (on farms, in processing floors, food service workers, etc.).
During these pandemic times, organizations are devoting energies to ensuring the dignity, rights and adequate policy support for and financial investment in a strong food systems workforce. Such support needs to be institutionalized beyond the emergency of the pandemic.
Title/Organization or Company: Leadership Development Consultant and former Executive Director, Just Food. I was the Executive Director of Just Food until March 2020 and I am now working on urban agriculture and food policy campaigns as well as capital and food enterprise projects throughout the city.
Background/Education: For more than 10 years, I have worked on fostering a local food based solidarity economy in our region that is centered on effectively addressing the inequities within policy that persists around food sovereignty, land tenure, and wealth for historically divested communities -in particular small- mid scale sustainable farmers, mixed income, Black, Brown, and other communities of color. I have a B.S. in Marketing from Hampton University, currently a 2019- 2020 HEAL Alliance School of Political Leadership Cohort Member, and received a Food Hub Management Certification from the University of Vermont.
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? Lydia Villaneuva of Casa De Llano in Texas is a mentor, friend, and inspiration to me because she is a strong woman of color leader that has weathered all sorts of adversity to sustain an important community based organization for over 20 years in Texas. Unheralded farmers and organizers in the food and social justice landscape and more well known leaders like Fred Hampton, Ella Baker, and The Young Lords also inspire me.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? A challenge that has impeded my work is the persistent segregation of resources and power of Indigenous, Black, and Brown and other frontline people within our society to become authentic change agents and decision makers rather than perpetual recipients of charity in this field. Even with the evidence of intersecting climate, economic, and health crises, there remain barriers to developing and implementing equitable food/farm policy that supports regenerative agriculture practices, addresses land theft, stolen generational wealth or authentically engages the most impacted in our society.
Another challenge I have found is the struggle to build true solidarity and intersectionality within social justice movements.
What is your future hope for women in food? My hope is for evolution and investment of a leaderFULL movement that consists of diverse women of varied experiences in decision making roles in the food system and they are given genuine opportunities and resources to lead, fail, and innovate in order to bring impactful community-driven work and results to fruition. The future could be our present if there was a genuine shift away from the performative paradigms of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. A key example is divesting from the tokenism of women of color leaders to simply fill a D&I quota, consolidating funding to only support a select few which under values and under resources many other strong and innovative proofs of concepts in our food system.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? The oldest living participatory democracy on our planet remains the Great League of Peace which is from the peoples of the Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations. Much of the US constitution and government structure was informed by the Haudenosaunee. I am more affirmed than ever that food policy needs to be rooted in the resilient, indigenous agricultural practices and brilliance of equitable dissemination of resources found in Black, Brown, and Indigenous cultures.
Today, it could take the form of the passage of a comprehensive economic stimulus bill that provides resources to strengthen local food value chains between urban and rural small-mid scale sustainable farmers/ producers, and fisherfolk, workers in the field to restaurants, and consumers. The bill should also direct funds to meet the increased need of safety net programs like SNAP, FMNP, and stimulate the solidarity economies of CSAs, farmers markets, and other alternative models of food distribution. Continued practice of inequitable food and farm policy that fuels big agriculture and the exploitation of resources and land will only exacerbate national hunger, degradation of soil, and keep people and business financially insecure.
Title/Organization or Company: Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, Emerita, NYU
Background/Education: I hold a Doctorate in Molecular Biology and a master’s degree in Public Health Nutrition, both from the University of California Berkeley
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? I used Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet in the first nutrition course I taught in 1976. I’ve long admired the work of Joan Gussow and Alice Waters.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? I research and write books about food politics. I’d say my biggest challenges have been to explain why and how food is so socially, culturally, economically, and politically important, and to establish Food Studies as a legitimate academic enterprise.
What is your future hope for women in food? I hope that everyone will become an advocate for food systems that promote equity, eliminate hunger, promote health, and protect the environment.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? The root cause of food problems is lack of adequate income. Now is the time to establish a basic income for everyone.
Title/Organization or Company: Founder and Chair, Great Performances, and Founder, The Sylvia Center-Katchkie Farm
Background/Education: Liz Neumark is a third generation Manhattanite and majored in Urban Studies and Political Science at Barnard College. A perennial activist, she started Great Performances Artists as Waitresses as a way to give women in the arts a way to support themselves while pursuing their creative dreams. 40 years later, Great Performances has transformed into one of the country’s foremost catering companies.
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? My dad is an entrepreneur, who retired after decades of work. He and his brother took over a small jewelry business from their father. Dad was amazing in his dedication to his customers and to working to support his family. In his industry, a handshake was as good as a legal contract. I learned about the value of real relationships by watching him: His recipe was transparency, dependability, humanity and humor. On my mom’s side, her father was a real estate lawyer. His motto was: Never do anything that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the NYT. Integrity was the most important thing to him. That too has stuck with me as we grew Great Performances over the past four decades. I need to feel good about everything we do; respect and value every person in our organization; and be aware of the impact of our actions.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Being in business has so many challenges, especially for one of our size. We are a big little company so advantages that accrue to large corporations (access to affordable health care plans) or to small ones (access to affordable health care plans) elude us. Same with a fair amount of regulations, and access to favorable financing.
As far as challenges unique to being in the food industry? Being in the catering world, one learns to ride with the ups and downs of seasonality. We are the canary in the coal mine – when the economy tightens, we feel it first. Learning how to navigate a sensitive, competitive, seasonal business is always a challenge, but one you learn to live with!
What is your future hope for women in food? Very simple: parity at every point. Each facet of the industry should offer equal opportunities to men and women. There are segments that are female dominated but far too many that are still male bastions. Gender and racial balance will make us stronger, smarter and more resilient.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Wow – that is a tough question. Our system is so multi-layered. The terrible challenge to consider is how many people are food insecure and very vulnerable. We need to decide as a society that access to food (for everyone) is a basic value. But when we look at other basic rights – to a good education, health care and housing, the inequity is everywhere. So are we thinking about a food policy that encompasses the needs of all our citizens? A food policy that works in time of a pandemic should be a food policy that works in time of ‘peace.’ If we had a few hours, we could discuss what that looks like.
Title/Organization or Company: Founder and Executive Director, Meals for Good, Inc.
Background/Education: Masters in clinical nutrition, Registered Dietitian
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? Frances Lappé, Raj Patel
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? There are many challenges, but one is explaining the relationship between obesity and food insecurity, and another is how people tend to conflate an increased minimum wage with a livable wage and are therefore surprised that working people can be food insecure.
What is your future hope for women in food? My hope for women in food is the same as my hope for women in every section of the workforce: an equal opportunity to be what we can be, with support systems to ensure that happens. This means universal childcare if we have children, equal pay scales, opportunities to come back into the workforce after being out, protection from all forms of sexual harassment and a re-thinking of what a boss should be so there is no bias due to sexual identity.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Because we are in the middle of this pandemic, and the City and the State are working very hard to ensure that people receive food and other necessities, I am going to trust that the best food policy is currently being designed by the City now, and whatever support they need, Meals For Good will be there to help.
Title/Organization or Company: Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Women & Gender Equity, New York City Council
Background/Education: Masters in Public Health, Yale University
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? I had a green garden growing up which has had a life-long impact on me. Since grad school, raising a family, becoming active in my community, and being elected to office, I have thought more and more about food policy issues.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? We still have a long way to go in terms of building public consensus on the profound connections between food, public health and the climate. That’s why I introduced, and the City Council passed, my resolution encouraging our city of almost 9 million to partake in “Meatless Mondays.” And I have introduced other bills which will help encourage the shift toward a plant-based diet.
What is your future hope for women in food? We can play a leading role at every level in building a food/health/climate consensus, and shift our society in a fundamentally more sustainable direction.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Our focus, first, should always be to follow the science. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that food policy should be part of a broader public health system. We have no national public health system, which is to a large extent why we are in our current horrible predicament. If nothing else, this pandemic should drive home the message that we need a national, comprehensive public health system, which would obviously include a major focus on our food system.
Title/Organization or Company: Executive Director, Citymeals on Wheels
Background/Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? Citymeals Co-Founder Gael Greene, who’s column I began reading when I moved to New York in 1986. She is as passionate about feeding New York City’s homebound elderly as she is about reviewing the city’s restaurants. Additionally, Founding Executive Director of Citymeals Marcia Stein, for building Citymeals into the strong organization it was when I became Executive Director in 2011.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Our biggest challenge is raising more money and fulfilling the growing needs of this city. We are constantly looking at ways to raise more funds. Currently, New York State is spending 40 percent less per older New Yorker than it did in 2000. You can’t have funding remain flat while the population in need is growing rapidly. I’d like to see the city’s budget address that. We estimate there are another 15,000 vulnerable elderly who could benefit from regular meal deliveries, but without increased support of the City’s aging services, it’s nearly impossible to reach those people.
What is your future hope for women in food? Food is one of the many industries that lacks equal representation by women. The food industry is experiencing challenges it never could have anticipated due to covid-19, but when it starts to rebuild, I hope to see more women take leadership roles as restaurant owners and chefs.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? The simple answer is: We need far more support and financial investment in meal programs for older New Yorkers. As the designated emergency responder for the city’s seniors, we’re working to ensure older New Yorkers have nourishing meals during this unprecedented public health challenge. Citymeals has already packed and delivered 150,000 emergency meals, and we are preparing an additional 300,000 more. Going forward, emergency funds need to be committed to social safety net organizations like Citymeals to support the current systems, should there be disruptions. In times of emergency, these organizations need to continue their regular services without delayed government response. We’re experiencing this with the coronavirus outbreak and can see the significant need for a more efficient process.
Title/Organization or Company: CEO/President, Teens for Food Justice
Background/Education: Journalist, Chief Executive of both for profit and nonprofit companies, mom
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? All of my grandparents and those of their generations were immigrants. They came very young to the United States with nothing and it was the help and generosity of others that enabled them to survive and build a life here. I grew up surrounded by stories of the people who, even when they had very little, gave them food from their tables or a place to sleep, and how they, in turn, provided that assistance to others in need, as they became more settled. My parents grew up during the depression and were young adults during the New Deal, when our country realized that government had an obligation to provide these safety nets to those who need them, whether they are new arrivals or longtime residents who have experienced a downturn in fortune and those were formative stories for me as well. It is my firm belief that we all have an obligation to build a world where there is equity and security for all and I hope that TFFJ can have a real impact in that process over time.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Teens for Food Justice is a disrupter—of agricultural methods, of educational practice, of food systems. When we launched in 2013, we were ahead of the curve and there wasn’t widespread understanding of how hydroponics works, how it fits within and augments our agriculture system, how it can be used as a teaching method and how it can mitigate food shortages in communities. In fact, the terms “food insecurity” or “food justice” were not widely understood. Building that awareness and buy-in among the institutions we need as partners (funders, government, schools), has been the biggest challenge and something that we consider our greatest success.
What is your future hope for women in food? I am hopeful that women will enter the burgeoning commercial alternative agricultural marketplace as leaders who view their businesses through both an entrepreneurial and social justice lens. It is my hope that, as we build our capacity to grow healthy food through these models, we also build models that make it available affordably to those on limited incomes.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? This is a very difficult question as so much is unknown about the virus and its impacts and those with way more experience in all aspects of policy than I don’t seem to have the answers. However, I am in agreement with many who have proposed that the government should be financially supporting restaurants and other food providers so that the supply chain remains intact, their workers have protections, and to prevent the collapse of this industry, which is so critical to the economy of major cities like New York. Our restaurants, caterers, and other food providers can be redeployed, through public support as resources to feed our most vulnerable, as safely as possible, while keeping these businesses from shuttering, possibly permanently, and leaving many extremely vulnerable workers without income and putting an even greater strain on an already overstressed emergency food system.
Title/Organization or Company: Executive Director, WhyHunger
Background/Education: I graduated from Rutgers University and have a BA in Political Science. As part of being a lifelong learner, I completed the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education Course Leadership, Organizing and Action and a course at the University of Notre Dame Non-Profit Business Excellence Continuing Education Program.
I have frequently discuss the hunger crisis as a thought leader and was named one of the most powerful female change makers by SHAPE magazine in 2019.
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? WhyHunger’s Co-Founder Bill Ayres. Board Member and Activist Karen Washington
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? WhyHunger is working on the root causes to hunger and poverty at the intersection of economic justice, racism, health equity, and environmental justice. Changing the narrative around food aid as the dominant solution to hunger takes a long time when the ethos has been so deeply ingrained that we just need to give food to people. Communities need resources and they hold the keys to their own self-determination and vibrancy. Women prove time and time again that when they work then their children are fed and when their children are fed then they are educated.
What is your future hope for women in food? That women grow as powerful voices and leaders in food work that is rooted in social justice.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? We have to ensure that people in need have access to quick and robust government benefits like SNAP and WIC, we have to invest in community food projects growing food locally, we have to ensure all workers along the food chain are paid a living wage.
Title/Organization or Company: Co-Owner, Lighthouse Restaurant
Background/Education: Grew up in Israel, served in the IDF, moved to NYC at the age of 21, Hunter College
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? Alice Waters
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Very few resources and systems for proper/sustainable practices, human resources.
What is your future hope for women in food? That we (women) bring a holistic, long term approach to the industry and transform it to a mindful & nourishing industry, with positive impact on the planet, employees and guests.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Create a free mandatory education to ALL hospitality workers.
Title/Organization or Company: Farmer/Co-Owner Rise & Root Farm
Background/Education: I am a farmer and activist. I am Co-owner/Farmer at Rise & Root Farm in Chester New York. As an activist and food advocate I Co- Founded Black Urban Growers (BUGS) an organization supporting growers in both urban and rural settings in 2010. In 2012, Ebony magazine voted me one of their 100 most influential African Americans in the country and in 2014 I was the recipient of the James Beard Leadership Award. I serve on the boards of the New York Botanical Gardens, SoulFire Farm, the Mary Mitchell Center, WhyHunger, and Farm School NYC.
I have a BS in Physical Therapy from Hunter College and an MA in Occupational Biomechanics and Ergonomics from NYU.
Who has been your career mentor or inspiration? It’s my community in the Bronx, they are the ones who give me inspiration. Hard working people doing so much with limited resources but still we rise!!
What has been your biggest challenge working in this field? Being a black farmer, as a Women and a person of color, resources for black farmers are limited or next to none. In NYS according to the 2017 Census out of 57,000 farmers, there are only 139 who are Black. We don’t have access to land, access to credit/ capital, information for grants and loans. Nor are we fully represented on statewide policy boards.
What is your future hope for women in food? Let’s first and foremost recognize that women are on top of the food chain when it comes to agriculture. Globally we are the world’s farmers and growers and yet we lack access to resources, capital and technology. Our food system is controlled by a handful of white men. My hope is to open the door for women to have power!! We have the numbers but we must have access to markets, technology, capital and decision making.
If you could create any food policy to protect the food system during our current coronavirus pandemic what would it be? Declaration that food is a human right. Recognize the importance of people who grow our food, distribute our food, harvest our food and cook our food, as a result this food chain must be protected. This pandemic has shown us how fragile our social and economic systems are, but the one constant system we must rely on is our food system. This is a wake up call, we will get through this, however, we cannot go back to a system that for so long placed value on economic gains and not on social capital. Our top priorities are, to make sure everyone has access to healthy food and water, that our food supply remains safe, and that we continue to help the ones along our food chain who feed us with living wages and universal health care. Lastly let’s take the time to say Thank You to them.