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Diane Hatz smiles while holding up a glass of wine to cheers.

Diane Hatz, founder and executive director of Change Food and founder of the Change Food Video Library, is a creative marketing expert and events innovator who raises awareness about problems and solutions within the food and farming system while encouraging individuals to create their own change. From 2011-2015 she was the founder, organizer and host of TEDxManhattan “Changing the Way We Eat.”

Diane, who has dedicated 20 years to making positive change in the food industry, admits that in some ways she still doesn’t understand “how people can look at profit and greed over [the wellbeing of] their neighbors.” And yet, it’s still happening every day in our food system, a fact that gets Diane, as she puts it, “pissed off and passionately involved.” Currently she is working hard to bridge the divide between urban “eaters” and rural “producers,” but she says this disconnect is not as simple as it once was.

“It’s not urban/rural anymore. For me it’s like agriculture tech Silicon Valley investments vs. good food people and that’s the divide that’s really riling me up.” Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. “People really do want to know where their food comes from now,” adds Diane. “There is so much that needs to be done and we need to activate and harness the power of all of these people who are starting to rally together because it’s not just about one issue, everybody has something they can do to contribute.”

So what can you do to contribute? Diane has a bunch of ideas (she’s actually writing them down in a book!) but until that’s done, you can listen to what she has to say at the link above, on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts—don’t forget to subscribe!


Transcript: Rootstock Radio Interview with Diane Hatz of Change Food

Air Date: April 30, 2018

Welcome to Rootstock Radio. Join us as host Theresa Marquez talks to leaders from the Good Food movement about food, farming, and our global future. Rootstock Radio—propagating a healthy planet. Now, here’s host Theresa Marquez.

THERESA MARQUEZ: Hello, and welcome to Rootstock Radio. I’m Theresa Marquez, and I’m here today with Diane Hatz, a 20-year Change Food activist, also founder and executive director of Change Food. I think I would describe Diane as a relentless Change Food activist, and it is a real honor to have you today, Diane, on the show.

DIANE HATZ: Thank you so much, Theresa. It’s an honor to be here.

TM: Well, you know, this is a wonderful little community radio program and it’s in a lot of rural places as well as urban. But people see New York, and we think of that Richard Louv book No Child Left in the Forest [Last Child in the Woods], and he talks about New Yorkers who never put their feet in the earth. I have to ask, as a New Yorker, what did bring you into this Change Food so passionately, Diane?

DH: Oh, Theresa, we’ve known each other, I think, the whole time I’ve been in the food movement. I fell into it, because I was in the music industry and had to get out. I answered an ad in the New York Times, this little ad, like, fax your resume, peace and environmental nonprofit. And it ended up being an organization that was just starting, and they were focused on shutting down or holding accountable factory farms. And I didn’t know anything—this was 20 years ago—I didn’t know about factory farms, I didn’t know about the food system. And I just got so pissed off and passionately involved because of my anger. I mean, I channeled it in a positive way because I couldn’t understand—and I still don’t understand—how people can look at profit and greed over their neighbors. And it’s still something that fuels the work that I do.

So as I got more and more involved with the factory farm work, I realized [unclear—“something very depressing?”]: that the activists I know around the country that work on holding them accountable, they’re really heroes in my eyes. But I was able to get funding to start a program, which is now defunct, but it was called Sustainable Table. And what I did was I worked to educate people here in places like New York City, people outside the rural area, about the issues affecting the food system, and people in rural areas and on farms. So with that—and we might have met around The Meatrix. I did this little flash animation—we’re talking 2003.

TM: Yeah, this was a while ago.

DH: Yeah, a long time ago.

TM: In fact, I was at one of the TEDx’s that you put on. And so you just threw a lot of things out here. But what I love about the work you’re doing, Diane, is that you are trying to bridge that urban-rural, and it is a such an important…it’s so important right now. You’ve called New York City “in the bubble.”

DH: It is, it is. It’s a big bubble.

TM: And so you won’t talk… You know, out here there’s quite a lot going on and a lot of controversy around the CAFOs. And for those of you out there, confinement and feedlot operations is one way to describe them. And really it is the opposite, of course, of grazing and cows being out on the grass. And it so impacts so much and it does impact people in the city, and yet it’s hard to make that link. What are all the different things that you’ve found work well when you do that?

DH: You know, I have to say, I think Michael Pollan had, probably, the biggest impact. And not to toot my own horn, but The Meatrix did also. It was getting…explaining the issues to people in palatable ways. Food Inc. was a phenomenal movie but I think it reached the converted. People can’t take the really gruesome details. So what I’ve found in the “bubble” is—and I do believe that the best food tastes great. I mean, the best food is also the most delicious food because it’s grown properly. It’s got all the nutrients in it. And if you go on that angle, people are more receptive to how things were raised.

I mean, right now, there’s been such a massive shift. And I’ve been looking at trends—this is not just New York City, but it would probably be more urban areas. Transparency is number one, and this gives me huge, huge hope for small farms because people really do want to know where their food comes from now. Like they really do ask servers in restaurants. They want to know—they look at the labels when they buy food, which didn’t happen 20 years ago. So there is a lot of hope. There’s still a lot more work to be done.

(5:40)

TM: I should say. But I do want to make sure that our listeners know about The Meatrix, which you’ve mentioned a couple times already. So be sure, if you haven’t seen The Meatrix, Google “Meatrix” and watch it. One of my favorite examples of using animation and a popular culture to talk about what’s going on in the livestock world. And I bet you did do something about pushing down a domino or at least keeping it going.

DH: Right, and then because of The Meatrix I got a scholarship to go to the TED conference. So if people have heard of TED Talks, I got to go to the actual conference. And while I was there, the food was horrible. Somebody was talking about—I know! But someone who goes to the conferences, who I’d met, she said, “Put on your own TED.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” They’d just started TEDx events.

So I was one of the first people to put on a TEDx event. I did TEDxManhattan, “Changing the Way We Eat.” I was allowed to do an issue-specific event just on food and farming. And it became really, really, really huge. I’m really proud of the people who got to speak at the event because a lot of them have videos that have views in the millions now; a few got on TED.com. So I feel really fortunate to have been on the cusp of things like The Meatrix and being involved with TED. And now, now there’s Change Food Meets.

So the TEDxManhattan license was retired. What I’m starting now, there’s Change Food Fests, which are bigger events, but I’m looking at doing smaller events called Change Food Meets. The first two are here in New York just so I can sort of iron out kinks. I’m looking at doing one in Asheville, North Carolina, and I’ve just been in touch with somebody in Rochester, Minnesota. So that might be a third, our third or fourth one. So I’m looking to do these around the country. People give really short talks, like three minutes or less. But we get people who come to the event who are in the food movement in local areas; we film them; we’re going to put them in the Change Food video library. And in that way I want to use videos of people who are on the ground to promote what’s going on to people in urban areas. And I’m hoping that can help bridge the divide even more.

TM: So I just want to let everyone know, www.ChangeFood.org, where you can see so many of the exciting dynamic initiatives, events, and projects that Diane Hatz is working on now with Change Food. We are talking about this urban-rural and taking these things out of New York City down to the South, is what I heard, Diane.

DH: Well, south and Midwest. I’m coming out your way, Theresa. But what I think is important to know is that there are people in urban areas who do care immensely about rural issues and are trying to find ways. There’s another big shift that’s been happening that I don’t know if people in more rural areas are aware of, but the whole food, tech food startup Silicon Valley invests, I mean, billions and billions of dollars have come in. And I’ve spent the last couple of years getting to know people and talking to people in that world.

And I, today, have just… Like I did a video and I’m making a stance, like this, I’m putting a stake in the ground about Change Food because I don’t like where the food movement’s going. I am tired of hearing people say that the only way we’re going to feed the world is with ag tech. It makes me so angry, and that I think it’s even more important that the people in urban areas—and it’s not urban-rural anymore. For me, it’s like ag tech Silicon Valley investment versus good food people. And that’s the divide that’s really riling me up.

(10:28)

TM: Well, if you are just joining us, you have been listening to Diane Hatz, who is my guest today, and I am Theresa Marquez. And as you can see, Diane is feeling pretty passionate about the Good Food Movement. What are the issues? Diane, you had said, “We’ve done a lot, but we have so much more to do.” And I think you were starting down that road of, wow, we have an ag tech kind of situation, using “Feed the World” as their war cry, versus the Good Food Movement, that is really starting to get to you. I’m wondering whether you want to tell us a little bit more about that. And what are these other things that we’ve come so far—what else do we have to do now?

DH: And then I do want to say there are great group startups and entrepreneurs and new companies that do really care. There’s this one company called Rise and they make flour from the spent grain used to make beer. And I think that’s phenomenal. It’s a big food waste thing, it’s more nutritious, it’s lower gluten. But it’s amazing, like if there’s breweries in your area, they actually sell a license to technology. Like they don’t want to be flour makers. But they’re young, women-led. So there are a lot of companies [unclear–doing it?] the right way, but I just… You know, I think we might have gotten over the 3D-printed ravioli hump.

But for a couple years everyone’s talking about how we’re going to 3D-print our food. And I would get on stages and scream, “No! No, we’re not! No! Why? We need to help farmers. This is so stupid!” So because Silicon Valley and the [unclear—whole tech?], and your Googles and all that stuff, they’re pretty well saturated. These people—there’s billions of dollars of investment money. And they’re investors who earmark food. Food is the next big tech movement. So they’re looking at—and there are some good things, like drones that can look to see if parts of your crops are failing. I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t agree that organic certification should cover water—you know, hydroponics.

TM: Hmm, I was going to ask you that. I hope that we can come back to it, because I want to ask you whether that’s maybe a better option for people who are in New York City.

DH: No!

TM: Not even there, huh?

DH: No!

TM: Oops!

DH: If you live here in New York City, I go to a farmers’ market. Farmers come in here all the time. They’re growing food in soil. I can get on Metro North, it can take me just as long to get up into farming country as it does to get to the Upper West Side on a subway. We are not far from farmland.

TM: How about aquaponics hydroponics?

DH: No, aquaponics, the greens can be grown in soil—maybe not actual dirt, but soil, soil-like [unclear—substance?]. So that, I don’t have an issue with. I like that the weight…as long as the fish are happy, they have enough space and they’re not confined. So aquaponics, it depends. With hydroponics, again, I’m not against it. It will help. It’s not the answer. And I’m so sick of going to these conferences or events with all these investors, and they’re selling their wares: “We’re going to feed the world.” No! You’re not! We already can feed the world.

TM: Exactly. And that’s already been proven over and over again. And so someone absolutely needs to constantly be standing up. And actually, it’s embarrassing that they would use something as serious as people starving, for their own promotion of their profit. And I love the Environmental Working Group—have you seen it?—chart which shows where most of the food that we export goes, and almost none of it goes to areas where people are starving. So the people who are starving want to feed themselves, number one. And I couldn’t agree with you more on the “Feed the World.”

But I do think that we now have to say stop. Stop this propaganda line of “Let’s talk about who’s feeding the world now.” And even if we want to get to the “Green Revolution”—oh my goodness, we probably both would go on forever on that one—that, yes of course, at the time we did feed people by putting together short-term and agricultural solutions. But, yeah, we need long-term.

But I’d really love to go back to this urban-rural alliance that we need to make so that we can actually try and change food for good food. So when we talk about feeding the world, we talk about the billion people who are starving or wonder where their next food is going to come from, and we even talk about another billion who are really, really hungry yet they do have some food. But then there’s this other billion, and it probably includes all three, who are nutritionally deprived.

DH: Well, I got to be honest: Change Food tends to be national, and the global issue’s hugely important. What pisses me off is that in 2018 in this country, people are going hungry, and that people are not getting nutritious food. And that is something I think we all can solve. You know, I’ve heard that there are rural areas where people are growing food and they can’t afford to buy good food. There are so many…same within cities. There are people in what are called “food deserts,” which is not a term that’s looked well upon. But there are places where you can only get crappy fast food. And there’s obesity and there’s health, and there’s… So I’m not going to wait for the government.

TM: I want to get back to your current—and I wanted to make sure I heard it right—your new name of your initiative you’re working on right now, Change Food Meets. I like that.

DH: So Change Food Meets are smaller Change Food Fests. At Change Food Meets, we will be looking for people to put on stage at larger events. We will be filming people and to have people as guests on our Eating Real with Change Food, our video show. So everything we do is synergistic and works together at Change Food. But I think it’s not right for people here in New York to wait for people in the Midwest to come to us. I’m coming to you, and I want to know what’s going on because there are things we can do together.

(17:16)

TM: You know, I hope that you get down to, all the way down to Georgia, Alabama, where the dead zone is, and meet fourth- and fifth-generation fishermen. They’ve actually come up to Iowa. In fact Land Stewardship invites them up every year. In fact, they have an exchange, they go back and forth, and they tell the farmers what it’s like to be a fishing…you know, being a farmer—I mean, let’s face it, a fish farmer—in the dead zone, and how their agricultural practices are contributing to that. Every bushel of corn, two bushels of soil goes down the river. Not to mention the chemicals and nitrogen-loading and blah, blah, blah, you know all that. So, anyway, that is what I would call a great meeting of these two people.

DH: This is how I’m looking to do this Change Food Meets, is that we have to be invited. So there has to be a host person or a host group who will host us, be a cohost for the event. And they’re people who have to live there, because I don’t want to just drop into a town and say, “Hey, it’s the New Yorker! I’m coming to tell you what to do.” I want to be invited in and to be shown what’s being done. I’m really, really interested.

And I think it’s really important for people to realize, like especially with the march we just had and what’s going on in the world with climate change, with all the horrible, horrible weather events we’ve had the past year, there is so much that needs to be done. And we need to activate and harness the power of all these people who were starting to rally together, because it’s not just about one issue. Everybody has something they can do to contribute. So Change Food is really, really committed to trying to bring people together in the community and let the community decide what we can do to fix food and to better food.

TM: Good Food Meets, what a great idea. So, when I look at all the different things that you’ve been doing, from the Glynwood Institute—doesn’t that seem like a long time ago?—The Meatrix, the TEDx events, the Sustainable Food Table. And I wanted to make sure, isn’t there a book, The Sustainable Food Table, that you edited?

DH: It’s not a book, I actually have started one on the side because I just was speaking at a panel in Philadelphia two weeks ago, and 20 years later somebody in the audience said, “But where can I go to learn about the issues and what to do?” And the panelists all looked at each other and were like, “Uhh…” So I’m in the process of putting a book together. It’s three parts: beginning, intermediate, expert. And I’m going to lay out what people can do to not just eat better, but to work toward a healthier food system for everybody.

TM: Kind of like, is it a little bit of not just how to eat better, but the activist’s handbook?

DH: Well, it’s not going to be an activist’s handbook. I’m going to give it options. It’s going to be a very simple book and what it really is going to do is to… Change Food, we’re an aggregator. I’m going to look for who’s doing the best of the best. So, like the beginning, the first section is going to be based on Annemarie Colbin from Natural Gourmet Institute. She has seven ways to eat better and it’s like, “Look for foods that are whole. Read the ingredients.” I mean, it’s simple. So that’s beginner, because it’s hard when you’re first starting out.

Then you get to intermediate, and then by the time you get to expert, that’s like groups you can join, starting farmers’ markets—things that people can really get their hands on. But you can’t start there. Very few people can do that and not get overwhelmed. So this is just going to be a very simple guide for people. I don’t want to say activist—but it is, Theresa, it is an activist’s handbook. But it’s a good food handbook.

TM: I think certainly there’s a lot of reasons why lots of different levels of activism, and so probably more of us are involved in it than we know or think. But I think this is a time to step up a little bit. Certainly on all of my shows I’m reminding people, “Don’t forget to vote!” That’s one way of being an activist these days.

DH: You know what? And voting with your fork is relevant. So choosing to buy something local, if you have the choice. If you have two apples in front of you and one is local and one is not, and you buy the local, you have just voted for your community. And that’s really important, besides, and after you come out of the ballot box, you do that.

(22:08)

TM: It’s great that you’re bringing these messages, and I love your projects. We’ve got problems. And we’re in the Midwest here where we’re going to see a 200 percent increase in pesticides over the next two years, of some terrible pesticides, and we don’t even know what impact that will give on our already numerous problems out here, health-wise and otherwise. And certainly we do feel that there are a ton of solutions. I really enjoy the way that you have been trying to find new ways to talk, The Meatrix being an example of it, the TEDx.

Diane, you are such a creative person. What other ways are you seeing are better ways for people to work together? You’ve talked about building bridges. And right now, whether, if you’re a conventional farmer, wow, you’re probably struggling. So many farmers have gone out of business. They’re likening this year like the 1980s when farmers were committing suicide, and we’re losing conventional farmers. And so this idea of building a bridge and thinking, reaching for this urban-rural, come out here please! But when you get here, how do you see moving about and trying to make that an actual thing, to build a bridge?

DH: Everything is social media. Everything. Everything is going mobile and everything is going video. So the reason I’m doing the events is to film them. The reason I started a YouTube show, there is nobody in the food space doing anything like this. You have this radio show, the podcast radio show. These are the types of things that are really important, but it’s going to be visuals. Facebook Live, all the, you could do YouTube Live. There are so many ways you can just zap on your cellphone and start recording live what’s going on. And that’s what I plan to do.

And I don’t want to tell people what it’s like in Iowa, but I want to go Iowa and let people there talk publicly about what they’re doing and what they’re going through. You know, I just read—and I’m horrified that I wasn’t aware of this—that here in upstate New York, that we have a dairy farmer suicide crisis.

TM: Yes, it’s all over the United States right now. It’s in the Midwest, it’s—

DH: Yeah, and I’ve been so stuck in my bubble. Like I’m mad at myself that I haven’t been aware. And that is something…there should be farmers just getting on the phone and putting it onto video and talking about what’s going on. And that passion and that rawness and that realness is what people want now. Things have changed so dramatically in the past 20 years with video that it’s all about transparency, it’s all about being real, it’s all about being vulnerable.

So this Eating Real show that I just started—I mean, the other thing that’s really important is we need to put a stake in the ground. So I just did five things that Change Food believes in, and one of, my number three is “Farmers will always matter.” And people forget about farmers in the city, and I am determined to keep farmers at the forefront. And something has to be done about this. And I love Caroline and Glenda from Farm Aid, and they do amazing work, but they can’t solve the rural crisis, you know? We need people getting together. I would just like to stress to people in rural areas, you’re not alone. You’ve just got to get on your phone, and people will pick it up, you know? Shoot something, send it to me. I’ll put it out through my network.

TM: Well, here in the Midwest we really, really are trying to figure out how to reduce corn and soy. When you start studying the infrastructure, first of all the environmental degradation—I mentioned corn; soy is worse. When we look at other things that we could be doing, there’s so many beautiful initiatives here.

DH: Well, I also think what we need to do is to sit down and come up with pitches to get some of this $50 billion of investment money, to be able to have agriculture invested in so that farmers can convert, so they can cut back on corn and soy. And these people with the money, they’re not—some of them are bad people—but they’re not all bad people. And they just don’t know what to invest it. It’s the Wild West of investment in food. We’ve got to start capitalizing on it.

TM: As we wind down this discussion, though, let’s really make it real. The cheap food policy, if we could convert corn and soy—which is all going to livestock; when you go for miles and miles, it’s not popcorn, friends—to a more grass-based, especially in the beef sector. But if we could convert half of it to pasture, we could do such an enormous change in every single aspect of our lives, from environmental to cultural to health, plus economic. But I would ask you out there, listeners, can you pay more for food? What would it take to say, maybe we should not be 40 percent obese, and eat less and eat better quality, and eat less meat for sure, and think of other ways that… You know, I don’t want to economic harm to the corn growers, but I want all the children I know to be healthy. So what can we do?

DH: Well, I also think we have to throw in, if people were provided a living wage, they could afford more for food. So it is complicated and complex, but I don’t feel like we have a choice. What we need, I don’t care what a person’s idea is, we just need people to put their voices into the mix because that’s how the solutions come. Just speak up, take a stance. I mean, seriously, we all just need to, because… You know, and I stress, it’s not farmers that are the problem. And when we get into subsidies and the government and how farmers get screwed, I don’t know what to do. All I can do is my one little piece of just trying to raise other people’s voices. And I’ll continue to do that for as long as I’m breathing.

TM: Diane, thank you so much for being with us today. We’ve learned a lot from you, and I’m so excited about some of the new things that you’re doing. I think that you’re right on when you start talking about using the social space more. So I can hardly wait to follow all the things you’re doing.

DH: Thank you so much, Theresa, for having me.

TM: And good luck with all of them.

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