Oliver Gottfried 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.
Oliver serves as the Senior Campaign Strategist at Oxfam America and leads Oxfam’s campaigning on food issues. Prior to coming to Oxfam America, he received his undergraduate degree from Haverford College, after which he spent 14 years leading campaigning and advocacy work for political campaigns and labor unions across the United States.
Food Tank had the opportunity to ask Oliver about his work advocating for farm workers rights and why he is so passionate about creating changes in the food system.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Oliver Gottfried (OG): I firmly believe in the power of individuals to affect change. After a few years in electoral politics, I went to work for Oxfam’s domestic program. Today I help to elevate the voices of workers in our food system, in order to help them advocate for a better life.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
OG: Working at Oxfam has given me the opportunity to meet food workers from around the country and the world, from farmworkers in California and North Carolina to poultry workers in Arkansas and Mississippi. Their strength and determination to fight for their rights inspire me every day.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
OG: My parents were terrific role models, citizens who took action when they saw injustices. They taught me that it is the responsibility of every person to fight for the causes they believe in—and that inaction is not acceptable.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
OG: Individual consumers have the potential to radically transform the current food system. As they become better educated about the food they purchase and take action to hold food companies accountable, they have tremendous power.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
OG: Three years ago, I met Pedro, an immigrant from Guatemala working in a poultry plant in North Carolina. He endured low pay, serious injuries, and harassment at the hands of his supervisors, before ultimately being fired for speaking out about his rights. Despite this, and his status as an undocumented immigrant, he spoke out about this mistreatment so that other workers wouldn’t have to suffer the same fate that he did.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
OG: Big food companies have outsized control over our food system: deciding which products we buy, influencing public policy, driving down wages for food workers, and dispossessing small farmers. We can, and must, address this.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
OG: Learn more about the food you eat—where it comes from and how it gets to you. The more you understand the injustices in our food system, the better prepared you will be to take action and help address those problems.
FT: What advice can you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
OG: Do not forget the hands that feed us: the workers who serve and sell us our food, the farmworkers who pick our fruits and vegetables, and the processing workers who prepare our beef and chicken. Listen to their voices and consider their lives.
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