One I Watch: Simran Sethi

I first met Simran, appropriately, at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, that glorious foodie haven. It was 2011, I think, and she was already in deep with book development, wrestling with all the subjects she, as an environmental journalist, knows so much about (seeds! wheat! waste! fertilizers! GMOs! ethanol! externalized costs! globalization! pollution!)

The story I remember most from our meeting was her midwestern awakening: coming from life on the coasts, where (among the privileged, at least) adherence to sustainable, organic, and local foods is close to evangelical.. and arriving, via a professorial post, in Kansas, the breadbasket of the country, where longtime farmers and hunters–not always adherents of the organic faith– revealed the complexity of their livelihoods and the richness of their values.

Flash forward to today, and her book is done: Bread, Wine, Chocolate: the Slow Loss of Foods We Love. It comes out in November, and promises to be complex and delicious. What we eat– at special occasions, ritually, or casually, daily– reveals something essential about who we are. But today, according to the book’s website, “food is beginning to look and taste the same, whether you’re strolling through a San Francisco farmers market, at a Midwestern potluck – or a McDonald’s in India. Ninety-five percent of the world’s calories now come from only 30 species, and a closer look at America’s cornucopia of grocery store options reveals that our foods are primarily made up of only three foods: corn, wheat and rice. Diverse foods all over the world are being replaced with monodiets of monocrops.”

Simran says: “My book is for eaters – every single one of us. Mainly it’s for people whom I think the so-called foodie movement has overlooked. I believe change happens in humble ways in humble places. This book is about saving foods by eating them, by understanding the kinds of losses we are facing in agricultural biodiversity, and by understanding how we can come back from this loss. In all my work in environmentalism, this is the work that has brought me the greatest amount of hope and joy.”

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