By Bill Duesing
At the upcoming Winvian event, you will have the unique opportunity to hear from and visit with many notables, including two notable women who are pioneers and leaders in the local, sustainable and organic food movement. I've had the great pleasure of knowing, working with and being inspired by them for decades.
For over 40 years, their work has exemplified the holistic nature of the changes that are needed in our food system if we want a healthy future for people and the environment. Both these women have inspired CT NOFA members. They also remind us that this isn't a new or short term problem.
In 1978, Joan Dye Gussow published her classic book, The Feeding Web: Issues in Nutritional Ecology. She was then and for several decades more the Mary Swartz Rose chair of the Teachers College nutrition program at Columbia University. Her approach to nutrition was radical at that time and to some extent still is considering the narrow vision of many in the nutrition profession.
Throughout her career, Joan has connected nutrition to farming, and health to the nature of the food system. She inspired and educated many of our current food heroes. Michael Pollen for example, said "Once in a while, I think I've had an original thought, then I look and read around and realize Joan said it first."
Joan spoke truth to power as a member of the National Research Council's Food and Nutrition Board's report on biotechnology. Early in her career, she testified before Congress about the effects of TV ads on children's health and eating habits. Some of her former students are now prominent leaders in the movement to improve school lunches.
Joan has been waging a tireless war against the industrialization of the American food system. Long before mad cow, avian flu, E. coli or the 'diabesity' epidemic made headlines, Gussow foretold the impacts of the post-modern diet on public health, ecology and culture, "depressing generations of graduate students," as she now puts it, with the news that "life as they knew it was not sustainable, and destined to come to an end unless we urgently changed our ways." And along the way she didn’t just lay the foundation for modern-day locavores. She also challenged nutritionists everywhere to look up from their microscopes to see the cafeteria, the factory farm and beyond.
Joan's influence extends way beyond her students at Columbia. She participated in creating the kind of food system we need by serving on the National Organic Standards Board and helping to create local organizations such as NYC's Just Food. She has grown much of her own food for years and has inspired others with her books, This Organic Life and Growing, Older.
Joan was a keynote speaker and workshop presenter at several NOFA Summer Conferences, and at many other gatherings. Her keynote speech at the 2003 CT NOFA Winter Conference is archived here. It is worth reading.
She delivered this talk on the eve of George W. Bush's Iraqi invasion. In it Joan makes a strong case for the need to have a sustainable and nurturing relationship with the earth; for including the whole of our relationship with the earth in the idea of "Eating Responsibly." (This talk was given over 10 years ago, and it references her book from 25 years earlier. This is a long-term struggle.)
Obviously, this opportunity to meet Joan and hear speak is not to be missed!
I discovered Claire's Corner Copia in the late 1970s when I worked in New Haven's Hill neighborhood as a UConn Energy Extension Agent. Every week or so, I would walk to lunch at Claire's across from the New Haven Green. Fresh baked whole wheat bread, delicious soups and salads, lots of vegetarian options; what a great place for lunch! Especially with a delightful owner who was trying to do the right thing. Claire stopped serving meat when she learned how much Americans ate and how it affected their health and the environment. (If you think politics doesn't matter, consider that between 1978 and1982, there were about a dozen energy agents employed by the State of Connecticut and University of Connecticut to encourage people to conserve energy and use more renewable sources. The election of Ronald Reagan ended all that. Then it was full speed ahead with fossil fuels. We still haven't recovered that momentum and as a consequence face greater challenges, especially climate change. I hope you will all support the important PeoplesClimate March which will take place in New York on the weekend of the fall equinox.)
Aside from her extraordinary culinary talents, as revealed in her food and cookbooks (Claire's Classic American Vegetarian Cooking, Claire's Italian feast: 165 vegetarian recipes from Nonna's kitchen and Claire's Corner Copia Cookbook: 225 Homestyle Vegetarian Recipes) Claire is also a registered nurse. Her passion for care extends to her customers, her employees and her community. Claire has organized gardening programs in New Haven schools which connect students to their peers in other parts of the world. Claire spoke at one of CT NOFA's Annual Meetings and hosted a delicious CT NOFA fundraising dinner at Basta Trattoria, the fine dining restaurant she and her late husband Frank created.
I urge you to be inspired by these wonderful women at CT NOFA's Summer Gathering.