Alice's Blog

Food: Pleasure, Politics and Community

Thursday, 24 September 2009 02:04 Alice Leung
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Sometimes we come across the same thing or person at different points of our lives and have experiences that totally change our outlook towards them. I’ve come to find that my connection with food has been that way. I grew up in a family that loves to eat. Food was abundant, a commodity that was readily available…and I was never a picky eater. It was a wonderful blend of home cooking, eating out, junk food-whatever that particular time and occasion permitted. Food, for the most part of my life, brought me a wonderful, but one-dimensional experience of pleasure.

Then I took the red pill. My association of comfort and pleasure towards food was gradually muddled with the crude realities of our industrialized agriculture system. Just to share a few things I’ve learned about what it all means. It barely scratches the surface of the far-reaching effects that the food industry has. Everything from what we ingest through CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feed Operations) lots-a mess of animals, dead and alive, feed, and waste, to petroleum-based fertilizers and run off wastes that pollute our waters, diseases that result from monocultures and the indiscriminant use of pesticides, and policies that promote cheap corn and build the backbone of our fast food diet.

There was no turning back now. I couldn’t eat the prime rib, fried chicken and ribs that I thoroughly enjoyed knowing the price that was paid for it and what was REALLY going into my body. I decided to stop eating CAFO meat and certain produce as my first steps toward sustainability. It was an awakening experience, but also one that took away the pleasures of food without providing an alternative. There was something missing in my food experience, and I felt left hanging.

I recently attended the Chefs Collaborative National Summit in Chicago. The Collaborative is a network of chefs committed to fostering a sustainable food system. They advocate for sustainable food in the greater culinary community, provide other chefs the information and tools to source sustainable ingredients and connect chefs to sustainable food producers. My take-away from the summit was the connection that food brings through its production, preparation and consumption. I met the growers who brought the fresh ingredients, chefs who prepared and served the food and fellow food enthusiasts who enjoyed the food with me. There was care, connection and pride that permeated throughout the process, but not at the expense of taste and experience. I think I finally found the third leg to my food stool: pleasure, politics and community.


Civic Engagement: A Messy Start to a Clear Resolution

Wednesday, 02 September 2009 14:38 Alice Leung
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I attended the first Boston Climate Action Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting yesterday. The City of Boston had put together a Climate Action Leadership Committee in March, 2009 to assess the risks of climate change in Boston and provide recommendations on how the city and community can work together to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.  The CAC represents residents, businesses, organizations and other concerned stakeholders in Boston.  Our role is to make sure that the concerns and ideas of Boston’s diverse communities are heard and considered in the City’s process to update the Boston Climate Action Plan.

There were close to 40 participants at the meeting yesterday and the diversity of the participants was outstanding.  People are doing work in environmental justice, energy efficiency, urban agriculture (!), community organizing and development, real estate, green jobs creation, arts, conservation efforts, etc.  While everyone was concerned and passionate about how we can make a difference and want to take steps to change our future, we did not share the same experiences, expectations or outlooks.  While one person in the room saw more biking, recycling and general awareness in her neighborhood, another person doesn’t even have recycling bins in her building.

One thing was for sure: there is no one-size-fits-all approach to create an effective Action Plan that meets the needs of Boston.  My take-away:  We need to look at the past to inform our future.  I do think we have a good start. We need to now dig, dig deep to see where our communities are at, why and how they got there, create a shared vision of our future, and work with them to figure out how to reach that.  It will be messy and complex-the way it should be.   The process of sorting through the mess will help us understand the “why nots” and “hows” in order to develop the broad-based strategies we need to launch the city-wide effort. That, in my book, is civic engagement.  






I Want to Be in Your Shoes

Wednesday, 12 August 2009 18:27 Alice Leung
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 Akshay and I went to the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) conference this past weekend.  This is the 35th year that the association organized the conference.  They had the highest attendance yet, topping over 6,000 people this year.  It was a weekend filled with fun, food and farming.  It’s my first time spending a weekend with individuals and groups who are dedicating their lives to farming and promoting local agriculture.  The commitment to back-breaking work that does not always yield promising financial returns is definitely not conventional according to our business books.  From what I can see this weekend, what it does bring is a fundamental sense of pride and joy from using our hands to feed the community and tending the earth in return for our withdrawal.

Farming is not easy, especially if you want to do it the right way amidst growing pressures from powerful competitors, disconnected customers and financial constraints.  Yet, there is great strength and drive in the local agriculture community.  Individuals like keynotes Paul Stamets and Will Allen invest everything into their work to create systemic change.   

As a young urbanite and entrepreneur who feels avid about smart growth and sustainable development, I strive to bring positive environmental impact through building a green company and making greener consumption choices.  Yet, I still feel a bit removed from the experience.  I want to get my hands on it-to plant, tend, harvest and distribute.  Why not? Perhaps that will be the next steps of my venture.  To be continued…



Ready to Grow Up!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009 18:24 Alice Leung
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We are so excited about building the Top Sprouts community and working towards our vision of promoting sustainable urban agriculture in building rooftops.  The fun began about a year ago when I visited a hydroponics greenhouse project in NYC.  The system was powered with solar panels and a back-up biodiesel generator.  Filtered rainwater was used to grow herbs, tomatoes and strawberries.  A cooling pad made from cardboard was used to maintain the greenhouse temperature.  The neatest part is that this can be done on top of our buildings.  How can someone not get excited about this!

It’s been an incredible year working to launch Top Sprouts.  We met people from all walks of life-from farmers to engineers, architects, serial entrepreneurs, investors, garden enthusiasts and elected officials.  People were ecstatic about it!  They shared their contacts, strategies, advice and most importantly, they shared their vision and aspirations to the idea.  It made us realize that this is not only about two young entrepreneurs building a company on something we’re passionate about.  This is about working together to create a more sustainable future by changing our current food system, rethinking urban space use and finding efficiencies to reduce our use of limited resources.

The Top Sprouts team is ready to roll up our sleeves and get working!  We look forward to working with you to build our shared vision-one rooftop at a time.