Tables to Change the World: An Interview with Michael Hebb Tables to Change the World: An Interview with Michael Hebb

Tables to Change the World: An Interview with Michael Hebb

by Nicola Twilley

March 1, 2011

Last week, we announced our exciting new partnership with the 30 Project, a movement to create a long-term vision for food system change and build an alliance of committed people, organizations, and businesses that, together, can make that vision a reality.

GOOD: What kind of preparation are you putting into the first 30 Project dinner at Hayes Valley Farm?

GOOD: What’s interesting to me about the 30 Project dinners is that you're asking people to talk about a system, which is a big, amorphous, hard-to-understand thing. And you're also asking people to talk about time. Thirty years is not impossible to picture but it can definitely be a difficult amount of time to see forward, if not backward. What are the sorts of tools that you can use to help people grapple with these two otherwise quite intangible things?

Hebb: Well, the nice thing about dinner is people are already involved in the solution—they're talking together while eating local, sustainable food. It’s not a think-tank; this ball’s already rolling.

I think we’re going to find more similarities than differences. People who are striving to end hunger and people who are campaigning for environmental sustainability ultimately both want nutritious, accessible food that doesn’t harm the planet or the people on it. Having that conversation around dinner takes it out of the realm of some unreachable, unattainable concept and makes it into something that is already happening.

Of course, the big idea is that each one of the thirty dinners we do inspires another thirty-thousand or more dinners, as people around the county gather around the table and talk about what they want a healthy food system to look like.

The dinners are also a way to make a huge number of people into active participants in food system change. The idea is that by the time the Farm Bill rolls around in 2012, we aren't saying to people "Get involved!"—because they already are involved.

GOOD: How do you bring that idea of dining with purpose into your everyday life? Are there small things that you and I can do on an everyday basis to tap into the power of sharing food at the table?

Hebb: I just think that the more people come across the idea that you can do amazing things when you gather people around a table, the more people will think up interesting and powerful ways to activate it. For me, it comes back to the idea that, at a very deep level, culture actually originates from gathering around food. The height at which you cook meat over an open fire is roughly 30 inches, which is roughly table height. I think that makes eating together in shared space is a really important cultural myth—not a myth in the untrue or fanciful sense, but a myth in the sense that it's an important building block for humanity to have around and use.

You can read 30 Project founder Ellen Gustafson's introduction here. Meanwhile, keep watching this space as the project launches and we ask you to get involved!

Photos: (1) and (2) Songs for Eating and Drinking by Chase Jarvis and Michael Hebb; (3) Hayes Valley Farm; (4) One Pot and Foodista Dinner.


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Tables to Change the World: An Interview with Michael Hebb