The Politics of Food by Hannah Wallace ’95

Hannah Wallace is a Portland-based journalist who writes about food politics, integrative medicine, and travel. She writes for the New York Times, Portland Monthly, and (until very recently) Whole Living and her articles and book reviews have appeared in Salon, Vogue, O, T:Style, Mother Jones, Travel + Leisure, Monocle, and the Los Angeles Times. She is a contributing writer at CivilEats.com.

Joe Cimperman, a Leader of Cleveland’s Good Food Revolution

You hear a lot of talk in the sustainable food movement these days about how each of us needs to “vote with our fork.” The notion is that political change is hard to come by—and while we are waiting and waiting for our elected politicians to curtail insane subsidies to commodity crops like corn and soy and pass common-sense measures like a soda tax—we might as well choose foods that are good for us, the planet, and the people who harvest and cook them. Judging by the recent explosion of farmers’ markets in the U.S., this maxim is—at least in part—working.

But voting with your fork isn’t enough. We also need to campaign for and elect politicians who will fight for our values—who will fight against charges of “nanny statism” and big corporate interests (hello, Coke) and pass legislation that will give people of all income levels incentive to grow their own food, buy locally, and eat more sensibly.

Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman is one of these politicians. When I first heard him speak about his city’s efforts to tackle health inequalities, I was transfixed. He shared a dire statistic that has stuck with me: In Cleveland, residents of the African American community of Hough live on average 24 years less than residents of the predominantly white community of Lyndhurst. Twelve of those years, Cimperman said, are attributable to smoking and diet.

This kind of life expectancy discrepancy is not O.K.—and clearly it is not O.K. with Cimperman, who went on to tell the assembled audience of food justice activists, anti-hunger organizations, union advocates, and public health experts (we were at a food policy conference) how Cleveland was working to fix these health inequalities. He spoke about how the city had just banned trans fats and made it illegal to smoke in playgrounds and other outdoor public places. How City Council had passed legislation making it legal to keep chickens and bees and also passed a resolution committing to a community garden within five blocks of every resident by 2020. He wrapped up his talk by boasting that every farmers’ market in Cleveland now accepts food stamps. As Cimperman spoke, I realized that if we want to transform our food system and ensure that fruit and vegetables are more ubiquitous than fried chicken and Froot Loops, then we need more elected leaders like Joe Cimperman.

This spring, Spirit (Southwest Airline’s in-flight magazine) sent me to Cleveland to report on Cimperman’s role in the city’s agricultural renaissance. Though my story, part of a package on “the Power of One,” focuses on Cimperman, he would be the first to tell you that these changes have come about because of the hard work and collaboration of many Clevelanders. You only get a glimpse of these folks in my article—people like Rich Hoban of Cleveland Crops, Mansfield Frazier of Chateau Hough, Bobbi McDermott (who worked on Re-Imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland), Morgan Taggart at OSU Extension, Marge Misak at the Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, John Yokie at EcoVillage Produce… (I could go on and on).  But suffice it to say that I will be re-visiting Cleveland in future articles and blogs. To read this article, click JoeCimperman for the PDF.

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About Sandi Sonnenfeld

Sandi Sonnenfeld is a fiction writer and essayist. Her memoir, This Is How I Speak (2002: Impassio Press), which recounts how her views about what it means to be a woman in contemporary America changed after suffering a dangerous sexual assault, was a Booksense 76 finalist. With the memoir’s publication, she was named a 2002 Celebration Author by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, which recognizes writers whose work merits special notice. Sandi has published more than two-dozen short stories and essays in Sojourner, Voices West, Hayden’s Ferry Review, ACM, Raven Chronicles, Necessary Fiction, Perigee, Revolution House and The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review among others. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sandi holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington, where she won the Loren D. Milliman Writing Fellowship. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and the world’s most perfect cat.

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