Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Erik Hoffner, photojournalist and outreach coordinator at Orion Magazine, who was one of the speakers at the 2015 Food Tank Summit in partnership with The George Washington University.
Food Tank (FT): What will your message be at the Food Tank Summit?
Erik Hoffner (EH): Food is a universal issue; and beyond nutrition and cost, it’s also a justice issue, an environmental issue, and an access issue. The media ought to cover it well; and not just the topics of the day, but in particular we need to be illustrating the best ideas and most effective approaches to feeding all of humanity well, sustainably, and equitably. We need to look at the food system holistically and tell its story in fresh ways. At Orion we try to expand this debate beyond current topics and memes — in terms of food, the best example is Michael Pollan. He first wrote about how local food would overtake organic in terms of importance to the food movement in a one page Orion op-ed. This was back in 2003, before he’d articulated that anywhere else. Now look how far that concept has gone. Last year we ran a major feature on the emergence of food hubs and how they could bring the local food movement to a new level of growth.
FT: How are you contributing to building a better food system?
EH: I write about food system issues for EcoWatch, World Ark (member magazine of Heifer Project International) and Grist. One of my recent favorites for Grist is a conversation with TV’s Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio. He’s great, a real straight shooter that is actively working to build a better food system. Another is a piece in the Guardian this fall about a battle brewing over the meaning of the fair trade label, with one group seeking to expand the definition and the other claiming that such a move is missing the economic democracy piece embedded in fair trade. More locally, I teach classes on growing mushrooms, like shiitakes and oysters, on logs, naturally and outdoors. It’s incredibly rewarding and easy; I grow prodigious amounts of shiitakes on my own 7 acres of forest every year.
FT: What are the biggest obstacles or challenges you face in achieving your organization’s goals?
EH: Like all publications devoted to print, the portion of Orion‘s budget that goes into delivering the magazine in physical format to its subscribers is huge, and postal rates keep going up, too. Still, the readership is growing every year as people come to see the beauty of an award-winning ad-free magazine that presents the best words and images that a nonprofit can buy. It’s also available online and in digital and Kindle formats, of course, but many people prefer reading the magazine in real live print. There is just something about holding a beautiful product like it in your hands that a screen can’t match. As long as our community keeps supporting what we do, in whatever format, we’ll keep publishing the best quality writing about nature, culture, and place, including from the likes of Wendell Berry, who’s been writing for Orion for 30 years.
FT: Who is your food hero and why?
EH: After talking to Tom Colicchio for a little while for Grist, he’s my new food hero. The guy is in it for all the right reasons, knows how to get things done in the world, and champions food safety, access, nutrition, ecology, and justice. Plus, he’s on television, so he’s able to reach more people with his message.
FT: In 140 characters or less, what is the most important thing we can all do to help change the food system?
EH: If we all cooked, grew, and organized around food issues more, we could create an incredibly robust food system.