I interviewed Food and Society Fellow alum Ann Cooper on camera as part of my Food and Society fellowship and she became a Parent Earth Expert the same day. As Ann described the dramatic twists and turns of her career I was struck by her ability to creatively respond to the challenges life has thrown her. Ann is a woman chef in a man's profession as well as lesbian and a high-school drop out with ADHD and dyslexia--not your typical recipe for success, or is it? As the dyslexic child of gay parents, I felt an immediate affinity toward Ann and I wanted to learn more about her journey.
Ann became a baker in her twenties as a way to support her career as a ski bum in Colorado. Soon cooking became a passion and she decided to apply to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Her parents looked down on cooking as "domestic" -- they had hoped their daughter would be a doctor or a lawyer. Despite this lack of support and the fact that CIA had no female instructors and only a few female students, Ann excelled. After graduation she had to fight to get her first job with American Cruise Lines because up to that point they had a policy of only hiring men. So by the time she became a food activist, Ann was already well experienced at going against the grain. Most people would call it courage, but Ann frames it differently: " Once your are outside societal norms, its easy to be outside in many areas. You have nothing to lose.”
Ann's story offers a glimmer of what is needed to create a sustainable, just and vibrant food system. We need out of the box thinking and we need to open ourselves more and more to people who are not viewed as either "normal" or part of the status quo. Non-traditional paths can lead to huge results.
After telling her story, Ann often has parents of kids with ADHD come up to her after a talk and say that her story gives them hope for their own children. I say having people like Ann in the food movement gives us hope for all of our children.
On the future of food Ann says, "I'd love to see a food system where the triple bottom line truly prevails: People - Planet - Profit/Prosperity. We need to value all 3 equally, and we need food that supports life-long/planet-long wellness, as well as the wellness of the businesses that support it." I couldn't agree more!