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Boulder-based author, Michelle Auerbach, was raised around community-based change. During her childhood in Cleveland, her parents ran a free health clinic, where she was first introduced to the crucial link between food and wellbeing. Though neither her mom or grandmother were especially avid home cooks, as a child, she found joy in baking with friends, sharing recipes with her great aunt who ran a bakery in town, and seeing her father exchange bags of coffee beans with fellow java lovers.
These moments of culinary connections were a sort of magic to her, which led to her work as a pastry chef and food activist and eventually inspired Feeding Each Other, a “guidebook for shaping change in food systems” which Auerbach and co-author Nicole Civita published in May. Drawing from their years of advocacy work, Auerbach and Civita encourage readers to cultivate interpersonal relationships as a way to reconnect to their nourishment and better understand the complexities of our food system: the interlaced web of production, distribution, and consumption processes that feeds all of us.
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Auerbach and Civita met in 2018 while both were teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder. Civita ran the food systems specialization within the Masters of the Environment graduate program, and Auerbach was teaching a course on storytelling and change. While the two eventually left CU and Civita moved to Vermont, they stayed connected, often discussing how they could combine their disciplines. Feeding Each Other was the result.
There is no single solution to the food problems we currently face—food insecurity, which disproportionately impacts low-income, rural, and Black and Hispanic communities; disconnection from where and how our food is grown; and climate change. For lasting change to occur, Auerbach and Civita believe that we must build stronger ties between how we feed each other. This means emphasizing local food connections, while retaining the necessary sharing of information, food, and ingredients from around the world.
For example, Auerbach buys her coffee from the Coffee Ride, a sustainability-sourced roastery from which owner Josh Crane delivers beans by bike all across the city. Along the way, Crane develops close ties with his customers. Seemingly small relationships like these help renew regard for our food’s origin, as well as the people who make it. “Denver, Boulder, and the Western Slope—they’re ripe with farmers, and community-supported farms, and farm stands. And knowing the people matters…. You meet these people and they become people with whom you have a relationship, not just people you buy something from,” Auerbach says. “That’s a big start, and it also just adds joy.”
Relationships among producers and consumers aren’t the only ones we should foster, according to Auerbach. An even simpler step toward connecting to our nourishment is to share personal stories about food with the people in our lives. For Auerbach, that means celebrating her great aunt’s baking recipes, her family’s Jewish culinary heritage, and her unique Thanksgiving tradition of serving spanakopita. “Even though we have a pretty broken lineage of feeding each other in my family, being able to bring that back and discuss it has caused a lot of healing and positive connections, and allowed us to hold onto parts of our heritage that otherwise we wouldn’t have,” she says.
Feeding Each Other is filled with stories of connection among small business owners, restaurants, and food organizations along the Front Range, including Frontline Farming, a Black-owned farm in Denver that works to increase access to fresh produce, and Denver-based Project Protect, which supports food worker justice across Colorado. These organizations address some of the root causes of disconnection from our food systems, emphasizing the voices of people who have historically been marginalized, disenfranchised, or otherwise ignored. “Being heard is a form of justice,” Auerbach says. “Being able to tell your story and have people hear you is healing, and it’s also how we get to learn enough about each other to create change together.”
Through their storytelling, Auerbach and Civita call for readers to stay present through the challenges of transforming our food systems to be more relational and less transactional. “We have to learn to be uncomfortable. And once we can do that, we can actually have the possibility of a lot of different options of ways to change,” Auerbach says. “But things really aren’t going to stay the way they are, and they can’t stay the way they are.”