EVERYDAY COURAGE: Sarah Archibald cares about food. She cares about hunger. And she wants to be a part of creating a food system that is just for both farmers and the low income who sometimes can’t access it.
She works for the Meal Exchange, an organization that engages students to think about and transform their local food systems. And she has been thinking about and working towards better food systems since she was a teenager.
Sarah came over to my apartment for dinner last week. We ate frittata and roasted sweet potatoes and our conversation wove from privilege to self care to music. In our chat I was most interested in how Sarah had known for so long that a just food system was what she wanted to spend her life working towards.
It all started for her in grade 11. She had the opportunity to attend an alternative high school whose vision was to unite people from different countries and cultures to create a more peaceful and sustainable world. The student body had students from many different countries.
In the cafeteria at the school the apples were tasteless. Everyone was on scholarship so the food budget was small.
But as part of her classes she visited the surrounding farmland and got to taste the most spectacular fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables. And while she was there the world food crisis hit and her classmates’ families from Egypt and Zimbabwe were struggling to eat.
Trying to hold these three things – the abundance of tasteless industrial food, delicious local food near by, and the shortage of food in parts of the world sparked her interest in food systems.
Why was there a lot of both tasteless and delicious local food in Canada but food was so hard to access in certain regions? Why weren’t they eating the delicious food that grew near by? Where did the tasteless food come from and how was it produced?
In university she wanted to continue to explore these questions so studied international agriculture and global food security. And she’s been working towards a just food system for all ever since.
She is challenged by the amount of work there is to do, and the small team that her organization has to execute it. She often works overtime in order to get the work done.
The work asks where does our food come from? Who has access to it? And how can we create better systems? It also involves asking how a person’s race or class impacts what food they have access to and this has led to Sarah having to look at her own privilege as someone from a well off white family in Toronto. These explorations and conversations are not always comfortable but Sarah feels they are essential for her organization to come up with the best food system solutions they can.
What keeps her going through the challenging times is having a family and friend group who she can be completely herself around. Spending time with them gives her the energy she needs to keep asking questions, keep having uncomfortable discussions, keep stepping up when it’s time to step up, and learning to step back when it’s time for her to step back.
One of my favourite parts of our conversation was when I asked Sarah what the best advice she’d ever been given was. She said her parents didn’t so much give her advice as they asked her really good questions about what kind of life she wanted to live and this ultimately helped her build a career and life that she loves.
She also described an exercise that she did recently where you think about your 90th birthday party and what you want your legacy to be at that age. The guiding principle that came to her from the exercise is, “I am connected to great beauty,” which she describes as, “[it] brings in my love of the world and my love of people but also the inherit responsibility that comes with it.”
And she’s not stopping anytime soon. As Sarah looks ahead she is thinking about going back to school. The programs she is looking at are problem based learning that explore diseases that are affecting major food crops like banana or coffee fungi. The questions about food systems she’s had since she was a teenager are still the questions that drive Sarah to build the life that she wants.
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