How Can We Create a Truly Inclusive Food System?
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19 August 2019

By Ben Kerrick

The 2019 Cultivating Change Summit panelists. From Left to Right: Steven Williams of Eat Greater Des Moines, Ash Bruxvoort of the Women, Food & Agriculture Network, Ben Kerrick of Karen Karp & Partners, Liza Lieberman of MAZON – A Jewish Response to Hunger, and
Hannah Breckbill of Humble Hands Harvest Farm.

In late June, I had the pleasure of organizing and moderating panels at two back-to-back convenings: the Cultivating Change Summit, which seeks to elevate the work of LGBTQ agriculturists, and the Health Meets Food Conference, put on by the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine.

For both panels, my “assignment” was to create a conversation that challenged conference attendees to look beyond traditional silos of practice and industry sector. I wanted participants to see a more holistic and integrated perspective on food systems and their intersection with identity (Cultivating Change) or health and good food (Health Meets Food).

My relationship with the Cultivating Change Foundation began two years ago when I gave a POWER Talk (embedded below) at their 2017 Summit in Sacramento. In that talk, I discussed my deep interest in identifying and elevating the unique assets and perspectives of LGBTQ people working in food and agriculture with the belief that a truly healthy and inclusive food system needs the work, engagement, and collaboration of openly queer people across the food supply chain. For this year’s panel, I wanted to continue exploring and building on that theme. Summit participants are primarily focused in the agriculture industry and education sectors, and I hoped to get them to think about the potential of queer collaboration and connection beyond the farm gate. Four outstanding panelists joined me: Hannah Breckbill of Humble Hands Harvest Farm; Ash Bruxvoort of the Women, Food & Agriculture Network; Liza Lieberman of MAZON – A Jewish Response to Hunger; and Steven Williams of Eat Greater Des Moines.

The Cultivating Change Summit seeks to elevate the work of LGBTQ agriculturists. Photo: Cultivating Change Summit

Our discussion was complex, wide-ranging, and included direct participation from summit participants. One of the key takeaways for me was that there is a tremendous amount of interest and desire among LGBTQ people in food and agriculture to elevate and leverage their identities to create a more inclusive food system, especially one that better serves the most marginalized communities. But the conversation is still early in its shift from one based on overcoming experiences of discrimination to one that is more focused on the unique assets we as queer people offer the food system. I think sector-specific organizations like the Cultivating Change Foundation can help advance this thinking by building bridges beyond their own constituencies. For example, there has been a recent blossoming of celebratory queer culinary activities (NYC examples include Queer Soup Night and MeMe’s Diner’s Queer Industry Night), and I would love to see these activities connect with LGBTQ actors in other parts of the food chain. Although my responsibilities at KK&P rarely intersect directly or explicitly with the queer experience, I look forward to continuing to find ways to elevate LGBTQ food system actors in my work and in public conversations like the Cultivating Change Summit.

The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine’s Health Meets Food Conference is devoted to teaching medical professionals and culinary practitioners about the connections between good health and healthy eating and sharing this understanding with the communities they serve. At last year’s conference, Karen Karp moderated a panel discussion that brought a broader food systems lens to the conversation. As a result, conference attendees expressed interest in looking more closely at the practice of agriculture and the ways that farmers think about health. As with the Cultivating Change Summit, I was fortunate to work with an incredible group of panelists: Emily Broad Lieb of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic; Kerri Dotson of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine; Ron Harrell, farmer and retired MD; Emily Mickley-Doyle of SPROUT NOLA; and Matthew Raiford of The Farmer & The Larder.

Each panelist brought a unique perspective to the conversation. Ron, Matthew, and Emily Mickley-Doyle discussed their distinct but complementary approaches to food production, while Emily Broad Lieb offered expertise on the ways that the policy environment impacts and influences farming practices. Kerri talked about the ways that all of these factors play out with her patients. The panelists and conference participants embraced an expansive and integrated concept of “health” that included not just human physical health, but also animal health, environmental health, and economic health – and the ways that these all relate.

KK&P’s work is and always has been devoted to cultivating connections and fostering understanding beyond traditional boundaries of sector, practice, and perspective. It was a joy and a rewarding challenge to bring that approach to these convenings this summer. I’m already looking forward to opportunities to do more of this in the future and to incorporating what I’ve learned from these conversations into my work with KK&P’s clients and their communities.