Recently, our President, Josh Viertel, sat down with Gourmet’s Tracie McMillan and offered his thoughts on farming on the White House lawn, working in food justice, the growing youth food movement and the next chapter of Slow Food USA. Here’s a sample, click here to read the full Q & A.
Tracie McMillan: You’ve mostly worked as a farmer and an educator. How did you end up as president of Slow Food USA?
Joshua Viertel: Well before I was president of Slow Food USA, I was co director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project. I came to Yale when there was no project there and developed this organization with a working farm, internships and fellowships, and educational programs with an emphasis on sustainability, food and agriculture, and the environment.
I had really wanted to move to California to do work in sustainability food agriculture and education. I essentially threw myself in front of Alice Waters and said, “I want to move to California and help you do this. What can I do?” And she said, “Well, it’s too bad you want to move to California, because you really need to move to New Haven, Connecticut—there’s a group of students there pushing to have sustainable food in the dining halls and create a small farm, and they’re at a point where they really need to hire someone who knows how to do this. And that should be you.” I was really flattered and said, “The truth is, I think I want to move to California.” But then as I was leaving her office, I realized, “No, that is just too amazing an opportunity to pass up. And I want to do it.”
I’d been on the board for Slow Food USA for probably a year and a half and stepped off of the board to apply for the [president] position. I just felt very blessed to get the offer in the end.
TM: Did you come to this work more out of a farm background, or were you a foodie?
JV: Both. I grew up in a family that loved, really loved, food, but my parents are not farm people. I was always drawn to that stuff as a little kid, and I always really cared about the environment. I was always deeply concerned about social-justice questions. And those were just these disparate things: I loved to eat and I loved to cook, I was interested in farms from a distance and physical work in the world, and the two problems that concerned me most were the environment and social justice. It took taking a year off school and working on farms for me to realize that the problems I cared about most were core problems that were linked to the food we eat and the way it’s produced.
There’s also an incredible amount of pleasure in it. For me, this was a great revelation. I figured out that by doing the things I loved, I could address the problems that bothered me the most. So that’s really how I came to it, this combination of pleasure and responsibility.