About Last NightFood Politics

Mother Jones Asks: What’s In Your Food?

By Marcus Samuelsson | June 8, 2012

Tom Philpott, Karen Washington, Marcus, Tamar Adler, Carolyn Mugar

Last night I participated in a food panel with Mother Jones magazine. The topic was simply “What’s In Your Food?” and my esteemed fellow conversationalists and I discussed how the food we eat plays a critical role in our lives and in politics. From Big Ag to pink slime and food deserts to the possible ban on large servings of soda, we shared our thoughts on what we think can be done to change the way we eat.

Mother Jones publisher Steve Katz opened the floor with an examination of the word, economics. Coming from the Ancient Greek word meaning “management of a household” it got us thinking about how money affects the way we eat—but it shouldn’t. 

I met the incredible Karen Washington, a passionate community activist and advocate who has been a driving force behind turning empty lots in the Bronx into community gardens (over 150 all together). Her commitment to bring farm-fresh vegetables to her neighbors was evident in her impassioned dialogue and she brought light to the idea that people in any socioeconomic position need to take ownership of their issues—there is an abundance of food in these so-called “food deserts” (a word she doesn’t like to use) but it’s up to the community to become part of the solution to our health crisis. We have the tools but just need the economics.

Tamar Adler, author of the beautiful book An Everlasting Meal, spoke to my cooking soul—she emphasized the importance of seasonal eating and substitution of products when they’re not supposed to be available. A parsley lover, she actually makes salads out of parsley in the winter when lettuce isn’t at its peak. Some might find her hard core in her approach (she found ways to make fried daikon) but I loved her fierce loyalty not letting anything go to waste—from animal products to parsley stems to parmesan cheese rinds.

If you don’t much about Farm Aid, you certainly know about the men behind it. Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews might be music men but they also demand fair markets for farmers and ranchers. Carolyn Mugar was there representing the organization she has headed as executive director since it started in 1985 and emphasized the importance of getting to know the farmers instead of just relying on the few corporations that have majority control of how we get our food.


We spoke for an hour but I think we all agree we could have discussed these issues late into the night. I’m always in awe of people who can teach me something new, and this panel of women headed by Tom Philpott (Mother Jones writer, James Beard finalist and a food politics genius) made me open my eyes even more to the challenges we are facing about how we look at food. I was reminded last night of the importance of eating and cooking with grace and how we should all learn to break bread with people we might at first feel uncomfortable with; it’s about rising up to the challenge when we run into constraints and it’s about constantly striving to stay curious and committed.

Photos: Jeannette Park

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