Chef and author Julia Turshen on the politics of food

Julia Turshen may be a noted author of cookbooks, but her interests span far beyond the kitchen. Turshen recently published a new cookbook that overlaps with an unlikely subject: activism and politics.  The Hudson Valley resident spoke with City & State’s Jon Lentz about the overlap between food and politics.

C&S: You’ll be speaking at City & State’s Politics of Food event on Nov. 16. What does “the politics of food” mean to you?

JT: This year I put out this book called “Feed the Resistance,” which sort of ties together politics and food, and activism and food. What I was planning to really center everything on is the question I’ve been getting the most, which is what does food have to do with politics and why would you mix those two? To me, they’re inseparable, and they’re completely about people. So to talk about that connection as people who both work in politics and food to combine those conversations and to just help everyday people understand that every decision we make about food, which are daily decisions, there are multiple decisions every day, each of those decisions is a political choice – from what we eat to where we buy the ingredients for what we cook to are we cooking, or are we going out to eat, who’s restaurant are we going to, who’s getting the loan to open that restaurant, etc., etc. So to truly understand our power as consumers, and then collectively as communities.

C&S: A description of your book “Feed the Resistance” refers to the millions who marched in January 2017, when President Donald Trump took office. Is food-related activism a recent phenomenon, or does it go back further?

JT: The answer is a little bit of both. It depends who you’re talking about. For many communities, it is generations old. For anyone whose human or civil rights have been compromised, this is nothing new. After the most recent presidential election, there was absolutely a swell in citizens understanding of injustice and how it faces them and many people in their communities. For me, my understanding of my role in the resistance and the fight against injustice became more clear to me after this election.

C&S: Tell me more about the environment aspect of this.

JT: What’s so amazing about food is that it really touches on so many aspects, and the environment is a huge one. When we talk about a movement toward good food, when we talk about food justice, you can’t separate it from being aware of the environment and conscious of it and invested in things we can do to better the environment and turn some things around. They’re totally tied, especially when it comes to agriculture and farming systems and distribution of food and how it’s packaged, who has access to it.

C&S: Any more specific details about the link between food and politics?

JT: One is the connection between food justice and racial justice, which often ties to economic justice, especially when it comes to job opportunities and business opportunities and business loans and that sort of thing. There’s a huge tie between food justice and immigrants’ rights. When we talk about people in the food workforce, for the most part they tend to be immigrants, and that’s a hugely important thing. And so much of what is in my book, and what is important to me, is the way that food can build and sustain a community – even as simple as inviting neighbors over to eat and getting to know your community better. It’s a really accessible way to get involved, whether it’s volunteering at your local food pantry or soup kitchen or meal program. Food offers us so many ways to connect with people and serve our communities and it’s something I just enjoy so much.