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Simran Sethi is down to earth
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Simran Sethi is down to earth
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“I’m not asking you to grow your own vegetables, save your own seeds or even bloody cook your own food. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t care.”
Conversations
16 July 2014

Simran Sethi is down to earth

Interview by Livia Albeck-Ripka
Photography by Cem Ersavci

Livia Albeck-Ripka on Simran Sethi

During the Festival of Ideas in Melbourne last year, Simran Sethi looked pleadingly at the audience for mercy before announcing, “I love meat.”

As a high-profile environmental journalist, her omnivorous habits have been the cause of much internal conflict, public criticism and even hate mail.

But for Simran, this is not a black-and-white conversation. Our food system is a complex beast. It requires a multi-layered solution to tackle climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

Simran has been on Oprah, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, hosted forums with Al Gore and moderated panels for the White House. She was named “the environmental messenger” by Vanity Fair and a top ten “eco-hero” by The Independent, but she still struggles with making ethical decisions around consumerism, just like you and I.

We’re trapped in a poisonous dialogue of judgement, believes Simran, when we should be putting our energy into doing our individual best. Whether that’s making the better choice at the big supermarkets, eating less meat, cooking at home more often, or making an effort to shop at farmers’ markets—we each have agency in this mess, because we created it.

Our environmental catastrophe is not solely the responsibility of big business, and only when we own our part in it, can we make true change.

Simran hasn’t always been an eco-crusader. At university, she studied sociology and women’s studies before going on to become a journalist at MTV News in the late 90s, where she covered everything from the rise of HIV/AIDS to conservation. Later, she ended up on screens around the world, leveraging the power of mainstream media to communicate one message, very loud, and very clear: We need to save our environment.

When we meet at the end of December at Queen’s College in Melbourne, Simran is taking a break from working on her latest book, which explores the lost of biodiversity in our food system. But don’t ever call her an academic. We urgently need to reach people, believes Simran, and we won’t do it by intellectualising the issues away from the public arena. Any successful revolution has a powerful narrative behind it. If we’re to revolutionise the way we treat our environment, the conversation needs to change, and fast. We need to tell the story of our ecosystem so that it resonates—with the meat eater, the vegan, the single mum, big agribusiness and corporations, and, most significantly, with ourselves. Because if we don’t care, who else will?

This story originally ran in issue #39 of Dumbo Feather

LIVIA ALBECK-RIPKA: I guess we’ll get straight into it. Seventy-five per cent of our world’s food is generated by 12 plants. Three companies own most of our seed, and a third of all the food we produce is thrown away. How did we get ourselves into this mess?

SIMRAN SETHI: Well those are three very separate things. I don’t know if I can answer them all in one fell swoop. I think, to talk about the loss of agro-biodiversity is really to look at multiple factors that have contributed to the shrinkage in what we grow and eat. And those range from increased industrialisation and globalisation, to trade agreements. Any large-scale industry wants to maximise economies of scale. So they’re going to try to be as efficient as possible. What that means, is when it comes to food, you’ll grow the same kind of food. That way, you can put the fertilisers or pesticides on at the same time, you can harvest it all at the same time, it will mature relatively around the same time. It becomes a more efficient operation. Also, with globalisation we see a lot of foods being shipped all over the world with less of a sense of seasonality. So for most developed nations, there is an expectation that you can get whatever you want at any time.

Then we look at environmental factors; climate change, a shift in the number of resources that we have available. These things are all interconnected. But when you grow a monoculture of food, that monoculture becomes vulnerable, like we’re seeing right now with the Cavendish banana or oranges.

This story originally ran in issue #39 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #39 of Dumbo Feather

You grow one variety, you lose them all.

The solution is: ‘Okay, we’ll put those seeds or the germ plasm in a seed bank or a germ plasm repository, and it’s fine.’ But these things aren’t dynamic constructs. They don’t evolve over time. If you freeze-dry something and put it away, it’s not responding to climate or cultural change.

Socio-economic changes also determine what we eat and how we eat. How we grow our food, how we cook our food, if we cook our food. Look at the industrialisation and subsidy of corn in the United States. The price became very cheap, so big businesses and big agriculture started putting corn in everything. Instead of sugar sweetening things, it was corn syrup sweetening things. Corn became the base of a lot of products. At a Woolies or Coles, it ends up being a choice of brand rather than a choice of food.

Okay, so our environmental and food problems have all unravelled in their own way—leading us to the position we’re in. But what has driven us to a place where this incredibly distant relationship with food is acceptable?

I think it’s a question of reprioritising. Fewer people are involved in agriculture. Our perception of time has really shifted. The idea of spending 30 minutes preparing a meal now seems crazy to some people. With the dawn of things like the microwave, people are like, ‘Wow, this should take about two minutes to make.’ [Laughs]. Ultimately though, I think it boils down to relationships. People are disconnected from the people behind their food, who are largely invisible. If you go to a Woolies, you have absolutely no idea who made or grew what you’re buying. I don’t think most people even think about it. It’s not even like, Gosh, I really miss not knowing the egg guy! You just buy the eggs and get out of the store. I think when you don’t have those relationships with people or with place, you don’t miss what is lost. And when you don’t value or miss what is lost then you wonder Why the hell should I pay $10 for a kilo of meat? Well, if you start to untangle how the three-dollar animal was raised and treated… But we’re cut off from those relationships, so we don’t care.

So how do we re-educate people?

Through taste and pleasure and celebration. I think that there have been a lot of people in the food movement who have approached these issues in incredibly condescending ways, made people feel kind of ashamed for how they eat, even “ghettoised” this idea: ‘Well, if you can afford it… ’ Let’s look at the bigger system that puts people in a position where they’re paid so little that all they can eat is crap. That’s the bigger issue. And because it’s so cheap, we don’t think anything of throwing it away.

People have been made to feel bad, and I want to be part of a conversation that makes people feel good, that makes people feel like even the small choices that they make can be transformative.

The mum who chooses the organic milk—even within the context of Woolies. The change is really difficult. We’re so entrenched in how we do things now, and it’s polarised. There are people who just think of food as calories, as fuel. Then there are people who think of food as some sort of precious thing that they are constantly obsessing over.

And then there are people in the third world, for whom food is just a matter of survival…

Yeah. Well I would argue that a lot of those people— if they are eating—are eating food of a quality which is arguably better than the over-processed foods that most Westerners are eating. There’s a lot of good research that backs that up. Kerin O’Dea has done amazing work looking at the Aboriginal diet. When they start to adopt the Western diet, heart disease goes up, obesity increases, diabetes increases—all of these health problems surface.

So actually, if you’re still living in close connection to the land, you’re probably better off?

Certainly, there are a lot of people who aren’t getting enough. But I think the hubris of saying “the Western diet is the solution” is just folly. Study upon study demonstrates that. I was watching a video earlier today where someone took the marketing budget of a film, $75,000, and donated all of it to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. This guy went to the Philippines and bought all this processed food, like tins of spam and stuff wrapped up in plastic, all this junk, and gave it to people to eat. It’s tricky. I have a friend who just arrived in the Philippines today who’s really committed to reseeding the environment in ways that are organic and healthy. But, there’s this tension of: ‘I need to eat right this minute’ versus ‘Do you have a vegan green smoothie?’ There’s a place for both of these things. But this also has to do with how people have been made to feel about food. And I apologise for what I’m about to say, but I’m kind of apologising in a sort of “I’m-not-apologising” way—

[Laughs].

I like to eat meat! I want people to know I’m not a militant vegan when I talk about what’s messed up in our food system. For me, food is history and memory, it connects us to each other. If I had to pick the thing I’m most worried about, it’s losing that. Like, if the memory becomes picking up takeaway…

Very depressing… So how do you stay hopeful?

The very first woman who walked on the ocean floor was named Sylvia Earle. I interviewed her a couple of years ago. Ninety per cent of our fish stocks are depleted where I live. We’re just taking all the fish out of the sea! We’re killing them or we’re eating them…

Or taking their fins off and putting them back?

Or just killing a bunch of them and only taking the few that we actually consume. It’s horrific. I said to her—she lives for this, this is her whole life, she’s known as “Her Royal Deepness” and she’s nearly 80—I clasped my hands and said, “Doctor Earle, how do you find hope in all of this?” And she said, “The 10 per cent.” That 10 per cent that’s not overfished, the 10 per cent that’s still thriving. That was a really transformative moment. I’ve just been asked to contribute to this book on hope. Hope within all of this mess, you know? The first question is, “Do you have hope?” It’s like, Hmm, no [laughs]. Not really! 

But then you wouldn’t do what you do?

Well exactly, exactly. You do it for that 10 per cent. You do it for that light that’s streaming through the window, that little sliver. The room might be dark, but there is potential. These little revolutions are not what necessarily makes it to the newspaper, but to me, they’re profound. So that’s what I’m doing this for.

If we get bogged down in the enormity of this, then we will be immobilised.

The truth is, this is what you’re going to have to suffer through. I’m 43 years old. I’m over halfway done. The most acute challenges will be faced by your generation. So how can we talk about these issues in ways that get people in their twenties and their thirties engaged? That is something that I’m really keen on understanding. That’s really where the solutions are going to be found.

Well it’s about making caring “cool.” Isn’t it? You’ve been on Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres… you’re the approachable face on this issue. How did you become the expert in environmentalism and biodiversity?

Well I would never call myself an expert. This is arguably some of the hardest journalism I’ve ever done! Around being invited to Oprah and Ellen, there’s nothing about being on those programs that’s particularly wonderful, as a goal. I guess I just feel comfortable. It’s part of my skill set as a journalist. What Ido think is interesting about those opportunities is that they have the potential to reach a large number of people and to deliver really important information. The thing that makes me saddest, however, is that a lot of the deepest information, the most important transformative information, isn’t what gets conveyed on programs like that. I think the audience is often underestimated as not being smart, caring or sophisticated enough to grapple with these issues. But they are.

Specifically around biodiversity, it was born out of research I was doing in Italy around genetically modified organisms. Looking at the moral imperatives for or against GMOs. I had been nominated for a prize in Italy. But you have to make the case for it being in Rome to win. None of my work was connected to Rome…

[Laughs].

So I went there [laughs] and I was like, Okay, how can I take what I care about and explore it here? A lot of the scientists I was meeting were saying, ‘You’re doing this research on GMOs, but we’re concerned about this much bigger and more insidious thing that’s happening—genetic erosion.’ I had already been approached by a publisher to write a book, so I kind of transformed the topic of the book. I decided to resign from my post at the university, even though I was tenured, because I really believe in this work. I felt constrained by academia. The demands of academia are to publish in obscure journals, and it doesn’t fit with what I want to do, which is reach as many people as possible. So along the way, it’s been these little epiphanies. There wasn’t one single moment.

My parents and I immigrated to the United States from Germany. Most of my family’s in India, so my whole life, I always knew of a world outside of my little world. I think maybe that has informed how I see the world.

Did your parents have a strong sense of social responsibility?

Yes. I think they both still do. They have science backgrounds. So, when I would say “why is the sky blue?” they really knew! My mother was a botanist, and my father was a clinical pharmacologist. He worked in cancer research. So I had a pretty sophisticated understanding of that stuff from a young age. I think part of any immigrant experience is adjusting to a place and having a memory of another place and reconciling these things. Recognising how important relationships are. That’s all informed how I see the world now. And my whole life, I’ve been the one in the family that’s really obsessed with food.

[Laughs]. Do you mean “obsessed” in an eating kind of way?

Yes, in an eating way! Like calling my aunt before I got home and saying, “Did you make this for me yet?” Or my grandmother making pinnis, these little warming energy balls, which you eat in winter. Really, really delicious. She would make a whole tin for me, and they’re very labour intensive. My relationship with these foods directly related back to my relationships with these people, they were inseparable. So when I went back, my aunt would have already frozen my favourite Indian foods for me to take back to New York—she knew I was not cooking them! It’s an interesting thing, because I really don’t like to grow things. I don’t like to cook. I just really love to eat.

What about doing the work that you do now? Has that changed your relationship with cooking?

No. I’ve been talking about food issues for quite a long time now. I mean, I have been quite committed because of my awareness of food waste, to composting. But there’s no compost in my apartment now. So I’ve been freezing it all! I have bags of it…

[Laughs].

…vegetable scraps and all this in my freezer, there is no more room!

Do you go to the supermarket?

No. I mean I do for toilet paper. When I first got here I didn’t know where to go. I remember that very first day, arriving really jetlagged, and I didn’t buy very many fruits and vegetables because I didn’t actually know what was in season. It took a few days for me to sort that out, being in the Southern Hemisphere. So I’m incredibly conscious, I try really hard to live consistently. To own where I don’t, and to really be okay with that.

So on that note I want to hear about your attitude to meat. How do you reconcile meat eating when it’s just so detrimental to our environment?

I’m insanely conscious of where that meat comes from. I have no hang-ups about the idea of “death” per se, but I have a lot of problems with scale and the treatment of animals. But it’s not just animals and that’s one of the biggest challenges for me. All GMO is labelled here, but in the United States, there is no labelling. Ninety-three per cent of US soya is genetically modified. So do you want the GMO tofu or do you want the factory farmed meat? These choices make me angrier than anything. Because—

—that’s not a real choice.

It’s not a choice. That, to me, is ridiculous. I would much rather have the meat that I knew the origin of than a bunch of vegetables from Woolies that I have no idea how were treated. That is the choice I believe in: the one that connects me back to a real person in a real place. I’m unapologetic about that. I don’t want to slam all vegans. I know vegans are good people, I just fucking hate those self-righteous environmentalists. I mean, let’s be real. There is a group, an ilk of holier-than-thou people who are just as insufferable as the horrible people who drive giant trucks and don’t care and leave all the lights on and throw everything away.

Just because you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean you’re not an asshole.

I think that’s a really important thing to consider. When I came here, I’d never received any hate mail, but there was a person who was vegan—I don’t remember this person’s first name but their surname was Bacon, which was just so funny. This vegan named Bacon was criticising me for single-handedly destroying the environment. “You say that you have studied X, Y and Z, so clearly, you should know better.”

I want to admit that I, like everyone else, am just trying to do the best I can. I think it’s a lot harder for people to be good and do good when they feel like they’re being criticised. We’re all just doing the best we can. Oprah actually said, “When you know better, you do better.” So I feel like my job is to give people the information that will help them make better decisions. I recognise that the notion of a better decision is on a continuum. What’s a better decision for me is different than what’s a better decision for you, and it’s different to someone who has two kids, and it’s different to someone who just immigrated here and is looking for work… I’m just really eager to celebrate people moving in this direction.

So how do we do that? How do we tell the story so that it resonates with everyone?

I really believe that underneath all this, we all want a good life. We all want to thrive. That sense of flourishing and that sense of fulfilment is defined differently for people. But part of the reason I think—and it was intuitive, not strategic—that I gravitated toward food, was, I love it. You know? I plan my day around this stuff! It’s not like I’ve been virtuous, eating great food always. It’s an iterative process.

I think there are universals too. We all eat. You can talk about these environmental issues through energy, but food is so easy! Especially when it’s delicious. Even for people whose experience of food is Hungry Jacks, they’re making a decision of something that they think tastes better than another thing there. Within that you feel you have agency. We can talk about these things in ways that make people feel empowered and reconnected. So how do we talk about these things in a way that reaches everyone? It’s not always easy but I do think there are underlying values like identification, joy and agency that are the ways to bring people together.

So coming back to the supermarkets, do you support the system that you know is detrimental, but will reach the masses, or do you continue to just do your thing in your corner? When companies like Walmart go “green” should we back them?

Well actually, I can speak to Walmart’s motivation because I’ve done a series of interviews with their first director of sustainability. It was a great way for them to deflect some of the attention from their labour standards, right? All of a sudden they were doing these great environmental initiatives, but they still weren’t paying people enough to live.

The challenge is when Walmart, arguably the biggest company in the world, says, “Every supplier has to shrink their packaging by 30 per cent,” it is transformative. The question is: Can those values then hold together?

There are some great examples of companies who have been able to retain their values while sharing them with a larger audience. But there are also examples of companies who have not been able to do that, that got bought out. They made buckets of money, and now they’re off doing something else, but the brand name still lingers. And many of the people who bought into that initial brand don’t even realise. Burt’s Bees, for example, bought for about $913 million by Clorox, one of the most toxic substances—bleach—on the planet. And everyone’s happily smearing their Burt’s Bees lip balm on. The products seem lovely. And I think the ingredients are, for the most part, still lovely. However, the money that you spend on that product now goes to support another kind of company. These are the questions I wish people had enough information to ask.

But like you say in your TED talk, we have this finite capacity for caring and for worry. How do we bring these issues to the forefront of people’s minds?

Well, if I knew something you really cared about was fashion, hypothetically, I could talk about these issues through that lens. I could bring someone into the conversation on climate change through food, energy, clothing… I just think we’ve done a bad job of saying, “Hey, everybody care about this thing!” If it doesn’t relate to anything I’m into, I have no connection, I will never care. Coffee is a great example. So many stories can be told through coffee, and coffee will tell you its story! It’s something that people drink every single day. We could tell extraordinary stories about the world through this one substance.

So let’s say you had five minutes with someone to communicate how important where their food came from was and you were using coffee as an example…

… well I wouldn’t presume. If I had five minutes with someone I would first find out what matters to them.

Okay, let’s say we’ve gotten to that point.

Okay. I’d ask them where they purchase their coffee. Depending on what their answer was, I would be able to tell them, “Okay, if you’re getting your coffee at Woolies, most of your coffee is a blend of arabica and robusta. Robusta’s actually not great quality. It doesn’t taste great, but it has twice the amount of caffeine and it grows where other coffee doesn’t grow. Ninety-four per cent of coffee is robusta. The rest of the coffee is the good stuff, like arabica. But these varieties are succumbing to a virus called La Roya, which means “coffee leaf rust.” So all this coffee is super vulnerable, and with climate change it’s getting worse. It’s predicted through some climate modelling that we’re going to lose certain varieties of coffee by 2020. Not that far away [laughs] and it’s crazy, ’cause all we’re going to be left with is crappy coffee.

So what can we do? It doesn’t always work out this way, but in the case of coffee, the centre of origin, Ethiopia, is the same as the centre of diversity. But all these farmers are cutting down all these coffee trees and growing this one variety that sells really well, which is then flooding the market, because they think that’s what’s going to make them money. But actually, we can transform the system—which is happening with speciality coffee and small roasters—by making different decisions about what we drink. So if you’re paying three or four dollars for your tin at Woolies, and you just paid three dollars more, you could help change the system. I would say something like that. And if I had a bit more time, I would explain a bit more about how climate change is having an impact on us, and that place has a taste.

I do this with a deep sense of curiosity and excitement. I’m sincerely excited to learn all this stuff. Before I came here three months ago, I had no idea what coffee from Ethiopia tasted like, that it was so different. It’s crazy! It’s so good. It’s also so weird that you can be like, I’m 43 years old, I’ve been drinking this bloody cup of coffee every morning for 20 years and I’m learning something new about it now? That’s amazing! There’s so much to learn, it’s so exciting, and it’s so empowering! That’s really the main thing. If you share information in a way that’s personal and relational, if you hit that right chord with somebody, then they feel like they can participate.

It’s about the way that we tell stories.

Yeah! I really think that.

I think that’s one of the hardest things about academia, about a lot of science. This stuff is so important and people are just not talking about it. I don’t know what happens to you. You become this weird automaton.

[Laughs].

You know? It’s like, you’re talking about this thing that we drink every day and love, but if you say it in a way that is incomprehensible no one will care!

It’s wonderful to hear you talk about it. Because I can feel your genuine excitement and curiosity—

—that’s really good to hear, because I sit in that cave over there and I don’t talk to anyone. I’m like this socially inept…

Academic?

[Laughs] please don’t call me that!

Are there ever times when you feel disillusioned?

Oh yeah. It’s really sad. We put ourselves in this position. We did this. What are we doing? What are we doing to ourselves? What are we doing to each other? What are we doing to animals? It just breaks your heart. Especially in writing this book*, there are some days where it’s like, I can’t do this anymore. I’m so sick of sitting in this room, I’m so sick of thinking about these things. I only have 40 more years, can’t I have fun? [Laughs] but then, that light comes through, and I see it a little bit differently, and I think it means something.

I interviewed the head of the Convention on Biological Diversity this past summer and he said, “One of the most frustrating things for me is the number of times that people talk about this being the problem of big business. Like, business did this to us.” I so appreciated what he said: “We did this.” If we keep pointing the finger out over there, then the problem belongs to them, and the solution belongs to them. We chose to buy those products. We made the decision that it was more important for us to buy the three-dollar meat than the $11 meat. We did that. There’s a lot of hungry people. But let us not be mistaken: the degree to which people are hungry, versus the degree to which we throw food away, versus the degree to which we spend money on cellphones and fancy shoes and whatever, like, let’s not fool ourselves. Let me not fool myself—

I’ve spent a couple of hundred dollars on clothes, and then I think, Oh my God, this chicken is so expensive! [laughs]. I have to check myself, and think, Yeah, exactly! As it should be! As it should be.

This is food. I’m constantly in that state of re-education and I have great sympathy for people who are struggling with this stuff, because I am too. But I think the more we can own the fact that we created this system, the more we can feel that sense of empowerment and agency in transforming it.

I’m aware that your alarm went off so you probably have to go.

Don’t feel rushed. I just wanted to have a sense of time, ’cause I need to pick up some stuff, and I’m committed to walking, because I don’t ever leave the cave. I just sit there, all day long!

I just have a couple more questions. Who makes you feel “up” when your having an existential moment?

It varies. For example, Ben Shewry from the restaurant Attica. Coming from New Zealand and growing up in a family that really was so self-sufficient, understanding this relationship with food, with death; slaughtering animals. Ben took me to their small garden. And I didn’t know this, but day lilies, do you know what a day lily is?

No…

It’s this beautiful flower, they tend to be yellow or purple. And they have like three pistols, pistils…?

[Laughs].

… That’s why I laugh when people call me an expert! Anyway, that part of it is edible, like eating the heart of an artichoke. I had no idea! Here’s this guy who is committed to making good food. He’s like, “If there was a table for four that came, we would have to feed them and then go back and wash the pots so we could feed another table.” He believed in what he was doing. And now he’s trying to figure out: ‘How does that translate for people that can’t afford a $200 meal at Attica?’ Or Local Organics, connecting farmers to consumers so that we can have these relationships. Somewhere along the line someone thought, This means more to me than watching television, or my comfort… It’s that courage that inspires me. And it doesn’t have to be in regard to food, but those tend to be the examples I’m surrounded by! People who are willing to sacrifice a bit to do what is meaningful for them. This woman, Sylvia Earle: being a woman involved in oceanography was not fun. She was constantly overlooked, disrespected, criticised, and she persevered.I don’t have a bucket list. I don’t have anything I want to do later on. I’m doing it all right now. Some years I make 10K, some years I make 250K—and I have the luxury of saying this, I realise, as someone who’s divorced and doesn’t have a kid—but this is the kind of life I’ve chosen to live. If I had all the money in the world I would still do exactly what I’m doing. So yeah. Long-winded answer to your question. Lots of people inspire me.

Very good answer.

I’m looking at this tree outside and seeing if it’s inspiring me in any way. I’d never heard bats, you know. I’d never lived in a place where there were bats squeaking around until I came here and gave a talk, and they were right under that tree. I was delighted actually.

No matter who we are, and where we are, and how much money we make, and what circumstances we’re in, we have a little bit of agency.

Anybody who uses that, however little it is: paying 20c more for organic milk, or choosing to walk a little further to the farmers’ market, or just being kind to another person. I just think all of that adds up. That’s how we’ll transform this. You know, I failed the only environmental class I ever took [laughs]. I feel like sometimes it’s so easy to feel, Oh yeah well of course you can do it… 

“They’re a genius.”

Yeah! “They’re really smart, they have a lot of money, they don’t have any kids!” Yes and no. Sometimes I think people spend more time trying to figure out the reasons for not doing something than just doing it. I think if you say things without having tried them, then it’s not cool or fair. Like, when I say, “I don’t like cooking,” I used to cook for my husband—I’m just not really that into it.

It’s interesting that you have this really strong connection to food that’s got to do with storytelling and family, but you don’t enjoy cooking! For me, that’s food. It’s drinking a glass of red wine while I make something with my hands.

Isn’t that great that we can both care and not have that same story? I would argue that in this day and age fewer people are cooking. Definitely, fewer people are growing things. So I’m the norm in that sense. You know this writer Michael Pollan? I love him. His work has been transformative. But I mean, I’d rather look like Nigella Lawson!

[Laughs].

She enjoys her food! She eats with such relish. It’s sensual and fabulous. I’m not asking you to grow your own vegetables, save your own seeds or even bloody cook your own food. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t care. I am just like you. I’m not asking you to go vegan—I love my meat. I’m asking you to be intentional and mindful of what you’re doing, to be grateful. You know?

So if you don’t do those things, how do you show your intention and care?

Love. If you’re not cooking it yourself, then go to the restaurants that cook it well, or “assemble your ingredients” like I do. Choosing the wine that was made here in the Yarra Valley instead of picking that fancy French one. You have amazing wine here. I don’t know why anyone wants to ship those bloody glass bottles from halfway across the world. Choosing, sometimes, to buy local vegetables, because you want the money to stay here in Victoria. That’s how. I mean, it’s not like it boosts my cred to admit that I don’t even cook!

Livia Albeck-Ripka

Livia Albeck-Ripka is an Australian journalist in NYC. She has had bylines at The Atlantic, Quartz, VICE, Haaretz, Tablet & others. Livia is a former fellow at Fabrica & previous Deputy Editor at Dumbo Feather, covering culture, identity, politics & environment.

Photography by Cem Ersavci

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