Jan Poppendieck didn’t cook me the best meal I’ve ever eaten, teach me the secrets to pasta alla carbonara or take me to a mind-altering restaurant. But Jan wrote a book about food that changed my life. Sweet Charity: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement spoke urgently to a loop that was already playing in my mind. Food handouts take us nowhere. Worse, they take us all — government included — off the hook. They make us feel like we’ve done our part when, of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
In her book and many articles and talks, Jan is clear that we must frame the problem as poverty, not a lack of food; that the conversation about food needs to be politicized because the answers to hunger lie in the public policy realm. But Jan is also clear that people who volunteer and work in emergency food programs care deeply about the suffering of their neighbours and want to help, that food is the ultimate connector and can be used as a tool for positive change.
All together, these ideas have sustained me and formed the base on which we built The Stop and now Community Food Centres Canada. These ideas have fuelled our commitment to creating vibrant food-focused organizations that galvanize a broad spectrum of people around the notion that food is a powerful force for health, connection, pleasure, hope and greater justice.
So Jan is #myfoodhero. But not just for writing a seminal book. She is also one of the warmest, most generous people around. Since I nervously sent off my first fan letter to her in the late 1990s, she’s made time for me at conferences, put a roof over my head on trips through New York City, participated in webinars for us at CFCC and engaged with me in countless discussions about the politics of food.
One such moment happened recently in Portland at the “Closing the Hunger Gap” conference. We were sharing a book-selling table. Jan was promoting Sweet Charity and I had The Stop, the book I wrote with my wife, Andrea Curtis, about my travels in food. A young woman approached the table, picked up both books, looked at us and said they had changed her life, setting her on her current path of activism. Jan turned to me, gave me a broad smile and we high fived.
Thanks Jan for your unwavering friendship and support, for being a great teacher, sounding board, colleague and thoughtful comrade over many years of pursuing a better world. That's why I'm making a donation to Community Food Centres Canada on Jan's behalf.
Nick Saul is the President & CEO of Community Food Centres Canada.
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