Meet Swette Center staff member, Estève Giraud

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 Estève Giraud, PhD student.

When did you first get interested in food systems work?

All of my grandparents were farmers, so that's the cultural background I grew up in. I was raised in France and my family is French. Until the 1950s, most of the population was rural and farming, which was a late transition compared to other countries. For example, Germany and the UK were more industrialized. The number of farmers in France was high until the mid-twentieth century, meaning it's not very rare in France to have people like me whose grandparents are farmers. Anyways, that was one of the first things that got me interested in food systems. Then when I was twenty my grandfather died of a throat and lung disease, and there have been discussions that it was due to pesticides. This spurred my interest in understanding what was going on with pesticides in agriculture, and with the whole food production system in general. I started to ask questions, interviewed farmers, and volunteered with farmers. Eventually I became really interested in organic work and I wrote a book about organic farming in France in 2014. 

What are you working on currently? 

I'm currently working on my dissertation, which is about weaving in care theory (a feminist moral philosophy) with food systems research. I have published a chapter on the impact of care practices in urban agriculture on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and another on gardening for food well-being during COVID-19. The chapter I'm currently working on integrates different approaches of care in the conversation on food system resilience. 

At the Swette Center, I work mostly on organic research and policies with Kathleen Merrigan, including several organic publications. We’ve been working with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) to provide a state of science report on organic agriculture, and the report should come out this year. In June 2021, we published a report with 46 policy recommendations to strengthen the organic sector. Currently, Kathleen, Colleen, and I are working with OTA (the Organic Trade Association) on a series of workshops on the future of organic that brings together a diverse coalition of stakeholders. These workshops have been happening since October 2021, and we are writing a report that compiles all of the stakeholders’ inputs and policy recommendations for the next Farm Bill. So yes, mostly I’m working on organic and I also help with other stuff as they come up. I never get bored!  

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

If I had to start somewhere, I’d say it's really to look at the environment not just as a resource. I think that is extremely important. For example, we ask ourselves: “How much water, soil, and land do we have? Okay, that is enough to sustain us for 5 years, so we can keep going for a little bit.” Reversing that and really investing our time into letting soil, water, and climate heal and replenish is essential. Also, understanding that these are not just resources for us, but also habitats for other creatures is very important. They are not just ours to use until we’re satisfied and move on. Essentially, it has to do with how we humans view, treat, and interact with the natural environment. 

Any advice for current food systems students?

One of the first things to come to mind would be to just look around. Not just in the classroom, but look all around because there's food everywhere. Think about what is considered food and what is not, and then question why. Who said that? Then, from whatever is edible, think about what goes through which channel. Who sells it? How does it get there? The supermarket only offers a segment of what's edible. You can look around and see other things that are edible. For example, right now I can see a basil bush and tomatoes in my neighbor's yard. There is also a lot of citrus. Maybe we can do a trade, or think about recipes to integrate them in our diet instead of letting them rot. When it comes to food systems, I think it is helpful to step back and look at the world differently. Go beyond what we teach you about food systems and develop your own understanding that is grounded in your own reality and in your own space. At the end of the day, what we call food systems now is a way of thinking, and it will evolve and change. It is important for anyone interested in food systems to think about what food systems are based not only on what you read and learn, but also on your lived experience and reality. It helps you get a fuller vision. Find your own space in that conversation. Value your own experiences even if they don’t fit into what you are learning and try to connect them together and give them meaning. 

What is your favorite food to make? 

I really love cooking. I don’t use very complex recipes, and I like to be creative with the things I already have at home. Something that I like making - because people really enjoy it when I do - is salad. I tend to make pretty good salads that I build with leftovers. I don't usually eat very much of it, but it makes other people happy which makes me happy. I also love cooking with my daughter. She's very young so she gets impressed by anything. If I mix something together, or even just cut a watermelon, she says “wow mama!” It’s a good feeling to watch her sense of wonder for simple things. Ultimately, I like cooking things that are going to make other people happy, either through the process of cooking or just by eating the food.