Finding the words

I’m working on finishing up the first draft of another book about food right now. I’m cowriting this one aimed at adults (more about it another day!), but one of the things we talk about a lot when we’re working together is language.

There’s the jargon we are trying to eliminate from the book (not always easy). There’s avoiding any suggestion of paternalism (as in “you should do it because we say so”  —not a great way to convince anyone of anything IMHO as a writer, parent and wife).

But, most importantly, in this book about food justice and equity, there is finding the right language and telling the right stories that will resonate for people of all political and social/cultural stripes. Finding a way to convincingly express what we both feel so passionately: that food must be reimagined as not simply a commodity but a public good, and that everyone should have access to it.

Of course, creating language and narratives that tap into the zeitgeist are important for all of us interested in transforming the current food system into one that’s more sustainable and equitable.

Cost-cutting politicians in Canada (and elsewhere) have been quite masterful at creating a collective narrative with such stories as  “Stop the Gravy Train” (suggesting Toronto’s municipal government was overspending when the average person was having to tighten their belt); or that familiar phrase from the 1990s, “The Common Sense Revolution”—another slash-and-burn tale that ended up devastating the province of Ontario, leaving our most vulnerable citizens out in the cold and all of us shivering and afraid.

But those of us attempting to foster an alternative to this approach have been less successful at capturing hearts and minds. That’s why I was pretty excited to hear about the Lexicon of Sustainability project.

Created by husband and wife duo Douglas Gayeton and Laura-Howard Gayeton, the project is based on the idea that people can’t be expected to live more sustainable  lives if they don’t know the most basic terms and principles behind sustainability.

So they crisscrossed the USA, photographing and talking to farmers and sustainable food pioneers like Will Allen, Alice Waters, and Joel Salatin. From those conversations and images, they created 175  gorgeous and informative photo collages and a series of short films.

With study guides, a book, web site and a travelling show of the images, the Lexicon is spreading out across the country. Beautiful and compelling, it’s a tribute to the power of words. That’s a story I want to hear.


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