Megan Grocki is an Experience Strategy Director at Mad*Pow, an experience design agency, and a candidate for a masters degree in Gastronomy at Boston University.
She is at her best when she’s helping people make informed decisions by simplifying complex information and developing creative ways to help them understand it, especially if food is involved. She loves to ask questions, is a gifted listener, and is dedicated to getting better food to more people.
You can follow her on twitter @megangrocki.
The Accidental Activist
“My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”
Food activist. It’s new to me, this title. I’m still riding with training wheels, learning to steer, trying to pick up speed to figure out how just what that looks like “in real life” – in my life.
It feels strange to identify myself as an activist. It’s an imperfect, loaded term, instantly conjuring images of draft evaders, angry women burning bras, or earnest Greenpeace volunteers stalking innocent pedestrians with their clipboards asking, “Do you have a minute to help save the world?” What callous, carbon-burning monster doesn’t have a minute for that?
Then my mind moves to some of the most famous activists -- Martin Luther King, Jr., Gloria Steinem, Mahatma Gandhi, Rachel Carson -- and a wave of inspiration washes over me. A little voice in my head says, “Look what they accomplished - you have to do something.”
Activist might not be the perfect label, but it connotes action and passion and courage, and so it is the one I use for now.
I also have a love/hate relationship with conflict. I don’t enjoy fighting, and I work hard to smooth over rough patches in my relationships with other people. But there’s real beauty in standing up for what you believe. It’s one of the truest forms of authentic self-expression. When I take a stand for something that matters to me, I am living my beliefs and defining what it means to “be Megan.” Taking action is like a personal path to being a better human.
I have two children. I want to teach them to follow rules, to be safe, to succeed in life, to get along with others. But I also want them to know that it’s ok to disagree respectfully. It’s ok to stand up for your beliefs. It’s ok to protest when your voice is not being heard. And it’s absolutely necessary to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.
I don’t want to be perceived as extreme or unpatriotic. But I am FIRED UP, and I can’t sit by and accept that this is how it will be. I want to shed light on what’s been done to our food over the past several decades, with the consent of our country’s leaders.
Just a few years ago, I was a carefree food consumer. Organic wasn’t mainstream. Fast food wasn’t the work of the devil. I didn’t really think about where my food came from and bragged about getting extreme bargains at the grocery store.
My food awareness didn’t happen over night. It was a gradual process. I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Saw Food, Inc. Heard Gary Hirshberg and Robyn O’Brien speak at the 2012 Healthcare Experience Design conference. And I started learning things about our food system that blew my mind. Things that I can cannot ignore.
- I cannot ignore the fact that 80% of antibiotics sold in the United States are used on livestock to prevent infections that occur because the animals are kept in crowded, unsanitary, and stressful conditions
- I cannot ignore that according to the Center for Disease Control, between 1997-2002 there was 265% increase in the rate of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions in children, and the numbers are still growing exponentially
- I cannot ignore that illnesses related to obesity (which is preventable) are now killing more people than the effects of malnutrition
- I cannot ignore that 1 in 5 children in the United States face hunger. Yet more than one third of children and adolescents are obese or overweight
- I cannot ignore that scientists have figured out a way to genetically engineer corn to produce its own insecticide by adding a gene from a bug-killing bacterium right into the corn seed. These days nearly 90% of U.S. corn is genetically engineered to produce its own insecticide, and can tolerate being sprayed with large amounts of herbicide. These corn crops are classified as pesticides and are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), not the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Let that sink in for a minute: Almost all the corn used in the U.S. is technically classified as a pesticide. And unlike most other developed countries – all countries in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and even China – the U.S. has no laws requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods.
You’d think there’d be a little more outrage. But, in fact, many people just don’t want to hear about it. We’re bombarded with bad news every day. Disturbing, sometimes soul-crushing news. We change the channel or click away from a story that’s too hard to hear, or we feel powerless to fix.
I’m a fixer by nature. When I’m faced with a problem, my natural instinct is to figure out how to solve it, hopefully as quickly as possible. But if the problem feels insurmountable, it’s tempting to shut down and try to ignore it.
But I just can’t do that with food. It’s too important to do nothing.
So, here I am, an accidental activist. I’m not going to tell anyone what he or she should or should not eat. But rather, my goal is to make people understand just how dire the food situation is without scaring them so much that they throw up their hands and surrender. My action has to raise awareness without fear mongering. It has to inspire and empower people to stand together against seemingly unconquerable opponents. Alone, we feel helpless. But together, we can be a force.
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
–Leonardo da Vinci
Think about what fires you up and identify one thing you could do about it.
Now go out and happen to something.