Diane Hatz is the founder and director of Sustainable Table, a consumer program founded in 2003 to celebrate the sustainable-food movement, build community through sustainable food, and educate and encourage individuals to switch to healthier, more sustainable eating habits.
Hatz is also the executive producer of the award-winning animated “Meatrix” films and the project director of the Eat Well Guide, an online consumer directory of sustainably raised meat and dairy products in the United States and Canada. Hatz recently traveled the country with the Eat Well Guided Tour of America.
You develop and manage creative projects to raise awareness and educate consumers about issues surrounding sustainable food and agriculture. That’s a tall order. How do you tackle it all?
One problem at a time. Our main focus has always been our online presence. We are a community-education project, so we’re focusing on having an updated Web site [to keep educating consumers].
I believe that the change will come through consumer demand, so we try and resolve the issues around what I as a consumer would want to know about sustainable foods. That is what I as the founder of Sustainable Table need to provide to them.
You’ve been able to watch Sustainable Table grow. How have reactions to your work changed since you started promoting sustainability in 2003?
People have always been supportive, but I was actually pleasantly surprised that people are now saying “thank you” for what we are doing. So many people are grateful that we are providing these resources, where a few years ago there just weren’t as many consumers who cared enough about these issues to say thanks.
Why do you think the sustainable-eating movement is trendy?
I don’t think it’s trendy, I just think it’s the way it is. People want to reconnect with their food and with each other. I think local, sustainable food involves communities. People are caring more about themselves but they are also starting to look beyond themselves at their community, the environment, and ways to give back.
How does this differ from the organic-food movement?
Something can be organic and not be sustainable, and something can be sustainable but not be organic. Organic is a definition that the government has designed for us, whereas sustainability is a way of life.
How did you decide to become an advocate for sustainable-food practices?
Partly it’s my job, but I got so into the sustainable-food movement because I am a consumer and I couldn’t find information on sustainable foods. I thought if I was looking for it, so was everyone else.
When did you first start eating sustainable foods?
It all happened with an organic mango, and it was the taste [that convinced me]. From there, I tried a tomato and then a peach. This was before the organics standards were passed and, you know, it’s a process. People shouldn’t think that overnight they are going to start living a sustainable lifestyle.
What can an everyday consumer do to start living a sustainable lifestyle?
I tell people to start small. One of the chefs that we spoke with on our tour said if people spent 10 dollars a week or even a month on a local, sustainable food product, then that would have a lasting effect on saving local farms and supporting the environment.
So, with 10 dollars a month, try to buy something in season that is also local. Try apples; I’ve seen them everywhere, but buy local, not those ones from New Zealand. And if you don’t see them in your store, ask for them.
Tell us a little bit about “The Meatrix.”
I’m a true believer that if you are going to talk about a problem, you have to offer a solution. The Eat Well Guide was crucial to me to launch Sustainable Table. So when we got the grant to do “The Meatrix,” I thought that it would be a great way to promote the Eat Well Guide. What we didn’t realize when it launched was how popular it would be. It’s in 30 languages and we’re in the process of putting together a DVD.
You recently returned from the Eat Well Guided Tour of America. What was that like?
The major premise of the tour was that I believe there is more happening in the sustainable-food movement than people realize. And not long after our stop in Portland, I realized it isn’t a movement anymore but that this is something people are doing. It’s not a trend. It’s a way of life that is here to stay.
So, we blogged, we podcast, and did all these things to try to get people around the country and world to “come” on tour with us and see what was happening in all these communities.
Name a positive and lasting effect that you think your work has facilitated.
If I have any hope, I hope we would push it over the edge to where sustainable, local food becomes mainstream. The ball is already rolling, but I am hoping we just made it bigger.
Ashley Griffin Gartland is a Portland-based food writer and the executive director of the Portland Culinary Alliance.
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