Monique Mikhail, a Senior Strategist for the Greenpeace International Food for Life campaign, is speaking at the inaugural Boston Food Tank Summit, “Investing in Discovery,” which will be held in collaboration with Tufts University and Oxfam America on April 1, 2017.
Monique has more than 15 years of experience working on food, agriculture, and environmental issues. After studying Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University, she continued her education at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, graduating with a Master’s degree in Agriculture, Food, and the Environment. She also has a certification in Sustainable Environmental Management from UC-Berkeley.
Monique spent time as a political advocate in Washington, D.C., working for the Stockholm Environment Institute and International Development Enterprises on a variety of global research projects analyzing the relationship between small-scale farming and natural resource use, and working at Oxfam GB on increasing and improving global investment in small-scale agriculture. Currently, her work with Greenpeace develops global campaign strategies and supports Greenpeace’s Southeast Asia and African regional offices.
Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Monique about what drives her passion for finding sustainable solutions for our food system.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Monique Mikhail (MM): I realized that food is an issue that is at the heart of so many other issues I care about—the environment, women’s rights, social inequity, citizen power, etc. It is an issue that touches every single person in a very personal way and thus, more than any other issue has the power to connect us to fix our broken food system and create a more positive future for ourselves and the planet we call “home.”
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
MM: Very much the same thing—it matters to every living being on this earth. Fundamentally, it matters the way food is produced and by whom. I want my daughter to inherit a planet that has averted climate catastrophe, has healthy forests and oceans, and healthy people eating quality food produced ecologically by real farmers.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
MM: Both of my parents. My father is an Egyptian immigrant and has an incredible work ethic and passion for his work. My mother is a strong-willed woman and a creative force in my hometown.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
MM: Mold the mindsets of the next generation to see the vision of a better food future. Perhaps it is cliche, but I believe in the power of people to create change. Food is an issue that has the power to unite us, not divide us. And, I think if we can change the mindsets of the next generation that real food is about: nourishing people while maintaining a healthy planet; it is about equity and quality livelihoods; it is about love and community – then, I think we will really see change.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
MM: There was a terrible storm that ripped through the region when I was working with small-scale farmers in West Bengal, India. The next morning I went to the village where I had been a few days before, and the head of the farmers’ group stepped out of his home. I was expecting dismay at the completely destroyed fields of crops around me. Instead, he smiled and shared tea with his neighbors and me and told me all was not lost: he still had his community.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
MM: If meat/dairy consumption actually increase according to predicted trends, it spells massive catastrophe for the earth (impacts on climate change, air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, human health, antibiotic resistance, etc.) We absolutely HAVE to reduce meat/dairy consumption globally.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
MM: Reduce or eliminate meat/seafood/dairy from their diets.
FT: What advice can you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
MM: President Trump: If you actually care about your rural base—quit. Everything you are implementing or plan to implement will only hurt them.
U.S. Congress: Disclaimer that I do international work, not work in the U.S. But, in general, I would say: Stop supporting big agribusiness companies; instead, shift all support to ecological farmers. Reduce meat/dairy in government procurement. Institute the polluter pays principle. Institute the precautionary principle. Ban GMO crops. Support SNAP and WIC. Support worker’s rights across the food sector.