Meet Swette Center staff member, Tucker Larson

In this series, we’re meeting with Swette Center team members to explore their background in food systems, what they are currently working on, and their vision of food systems transformation. 

Read on for an interview with Tucker Larson, Student Worker.

When did you first get interested in food systems work?

I've always been interested in food. My mom ran a restaurant in her twenties and thirties, and she was always cooking when I was growing up, so I was constantly around food. She even had a little garden in the backyard. I first became involved with food systems when I was 22 and moved to New Orleans to work as a butcher in a restaurant. I worked as a butcher for six years and I got very involved with local and ethically raised meats. Eventually I started working for a farm in Mississippi as the production manager at their USDA facility. Then I realized that was the peak of what I was going to do there. It wasn’t that I didn't enjoy my work, but it didn't feel like I was changing enough. It’s a constant uphill battle, especially in the small-scale meat world. I decided I wanted to see if there was a different way to make it easier for other people moving forward. That's when I started looking at going back to school. The two programs I was looking at were one up in British Columbia and then ASU. I chose ASU because of the sunshine. 

What are you working on currently? 

Currently, I am a TA for Sustainable Food and Farms (SOS 327) which is taught by Gina Nichols, an Assistant Research Professor for the Swette Center. It's her first time teaching this class and it's my first time being a TA for it so we're figuring it out together. I’m excited to work with her. Every time we’ve met for this class she's been super awesome. She has a great mind and I think she'll do an amazing job teaching this class. 

What do you think is a priority in transforming food systems?

I feel like if you ask this question to me every day for a week it would be a different answer every time. I woke up today thinking that the biggest transformation needs to happen in decentralizing food. This is especially important in the meat industry where all the power and control is centralized at the top. We really need to break that up, and thankfully that's a part of what they're currently working on at the USDA. Recently, the White House had a circle panel that discussed increasing competition in the meat industry. There needs to be more avenues for smaller producers to be able to get their products into the market. A lot of smaller producers do incredible work, but it's not always easy for them to sell their products. Additionally, these producers are not only working on producing, but they are also working on marketing. If the markets aren't necessarily there for them then they have to work twice as hard to sell. At the farm I was working at in Mississippi the most challenging part of the business was sales which involved doing things like ensuring everything sold, tracking everything on a week-to-week basis, and communicating with the sales team. 

Any advice for current food systems students?

Be okay with being wrong, and question everything. Everything in food systems is constantly changing, and the issues and solutions are very different regionally. For example, what works as a solution here in the Arizona desert would not work everywhere. If you read an article that works for food systems in the U.S. you might not be able to replicate that in other countries, but everybody's doing things a little bit differently. There is definitely not a one size fits all solution to food systems, and not everything you read is necessarily right or wrong. It's just a good habit for life in general to question things. 

What is your favorite food to make? 

I've always been drawn to southern food. I lived in the south for 4-5 years, and I always loved how comforting the food was. If it is perfectly executed, my favorite meal has to be fried chicken. I absolutely love it. However, I've been cooking a lot of legumes recently. Ever since I stopped working as a butcher in August I've transitioned away from cooking meat in general. I make a lot of plant-based food now and it's been really fun to cook and experiment with it. When I worked as a butcher there's always meat lying around. For example, if there was a steak that was cut incorrectly at the shop, I could take that home. Or if customers didn't buy enough pork chops, I could take some home. There was always meat around so it became a default ingredient in my kitchen, but now that I've stepped away from being a butcher I've seen a big change in my cooking. It's actually been really nice to mix things up with legumes.