Written by Daniel Latto in Latest News

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December 22, 2013

A few months ago I stumbled upon a little food haven in Manhattan. The sign outside says “Home Grown Is Best.” Inside you enter a world of locally grown foods — from the recreational cooking school (“Simple, Seasonal Suppers: Heirloom Tomatoes” sourced from the local farmer’s market) to the Cafe (gluten free dark-chocolate brownies with chocolate made in Brooklyn), Haven’s Kitchen follows a few simple rules:

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Alison Cayne owns Haven’s Kitchen – she’s completing her Masters in Studies at NYU, serves on the boards of Just Food and Edible Schoolyard NYC, will be a speaker at the March 2014 TedX Manhattan (Changing the Way We Eat), and is the mother of five. Alison and I had a chat in her kitchen (where the best talks happen) to find out why it’s so important that we follow the rules on that sign.

We can cook our way to a more equitable, more sustainable food system. Don’t feed the current system by buying industrial, processed foods. Don’t believe that you are executing your rights as an American the way soda companies tell you by buying a larger size Coke. You exercise your rights by demanding a regulated, just, sustainable food system.

Food businesses need to sell food, which means they will follow the trends determined by us, the consumers. If we demand more local vegetables, stores will stock them. If we slow our consumption of commodity food, especially meat, and buy foods that are grown with love and reverence for people and the planet, policies that encourage the growth of commodity farmers and empty foods will have to change. And if we demand a health care industry that fights obesity the way it did tobacco, reforms will inevitably follow.

What do you think is one of the most important things in the world that needs to be fixed?

Alison Cayne, Owner Haven's Kitchen Alison Cayne, Owner Haven’s Kitchen

Currently, the US has policies that funnel tax-payers’ money towards commodity subsidies, and a misguided understanding of hunger and the 50 million people who are struggling to put food on the table. We are dependent on oil to support a food system that is literally making us sick. While it seems like these are all disparate problems, they are in fact all connected. The thing to fix is the system. And the great news is that we can. Because bad systems aren’t set in stone, they aren’t natural, they aren’t forever – they are the results of people’s decisions and in our case, people’s dollars and our votes.

It will take time, but we’ve already made progress and we have the ability, if we support regional growers through thoughtful production policies and consumption behaviors, to create a truly just, truly sustainable system. This is a global problem, but many Americans do not seem to understand that it’s OUR problem too.

What will it look like when it’s fixed?

It’s not a quick fix, but the implications are vast. When food is grown and processed in less toxic ways, and consumed closer to the source of production, there will be less damage done to the environment. And when we are less dependent on subsidies and imports, our domestic food systems will be more secure and stable. Then we will all have access to nutritious, wholesome food that will feed a healthier, more productive population.

What are you doing to help fix it?

Like many of the world’s big problems, this one can be tackled at its core with education. Haven’s Kitchen demystifies cooking and shows others how to create and share delicious, nutritious foods from within sustainable food systems. We empower the average home cook—one who may be short on time, inspiration, exotic ingredients, money — that this kind of cooking can be simple, affordable, and gratifying in a way that cannot be matched by serving prepared meals or dining out.

While charity and grassroots projects are vital in today’s economic climate, we chose a different route. By supporting local growers we are helping them afford to keep farming. That is critical not only for them, but for our food security as a nation. It is also a critical piece when we think about caring for our most underserved populations. We need to grow food and make sure everyone has access to it. If we do not have regional family farms, we have no alternative to the industrial food complex that contributes not only to our Public Health problems, but also to the growing hunger problem we have in the US.

What can others do to help fix it? 

Vote. Vote for policy makers who believe food is a right, not a privilege. And then use your spending dollars to support local growers, not food corporations that are already being supported with your tax dollars through “farm” subsidies. Choose one part of the food system that you want to change and find organizations that are working to fix it. Cook at home with your family and use as much local and organic produce as possible. When you buy meat and dairy opt for grass fed cows from small, local farms. Buy better, and less, meat and dairy. Think about who grew your food, who picked your food, and how many steps it took to get to you…the fewer steps, the better for you and the environment.

What’s a mistake you’ve made that you learned the most and others can also learn from?

At some point, we all have to decide when and where to focus our energy. At times I have tried to do too many things or support too many causes at one time. I’ve learned this personally and professionally. The take away is that we aren’t alone trying to make things better and some of the work isn’t ours to do. We need to pick what we’re good at and where we can truly make a difference. I have learned to trust that when I sometimes have to say no, there is someone else who will say yes.

This GirlQuake ‘Fixer’ series amplifies the voices of girls and women who are fixing the world’s problems by disrupting the status quo.

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