Posted on July 5, 2011 - by

A FRESH Voice: Introducing Zoë Carpenter

Photo: S. Young

We’re happy to introduce you to Zoë Carpenter, a new writer for our blog. Here are some of her thoughts on food and food systems.

My relationship with food is more of an inheritance than an interest. My mother raised me in her garden, a jungly patchwork of vegetables, berries, and flowers carved out of the Oregon rainforest where we lived. My first intelligible word was “radish.” I fancied myself a baker by the time I was seven, and put on elaborate tea-parties for a loyal clientele of teddy bears and dolls, serving cakes made from my own secret recipes. I learned quickly that baking soda is a thing best used in moderation.

It wasn’t until I went further afield that I started thinking about the politics bound  with agriculture and eating. I studied public health in India, China, and South Africa, and was surprised to notice how great a role the food system played in health and development trends. In my research on HIV transmission pathways, I found that changing climate patterns, food imports, and the failure of Green Revolution technologies had made life nearly impossible for small farmers in rural parts of southern India. This spurred massive seasonal migration to urban centers, journeys that drove infectious disease across vast distances. Through my travels, I came to understand that dysfunctional food systems make for a weak society, just as poor nutrition makes for a sick body.

Last summer I explored the pleasurable aspects of food as a WWOOFer in Italy and Ireland. I weeded and planted, battled nettles and whitewashed a barn, capped hundreds of bottles of fresh juice, and ate my fair share of gorgonzola and gelato. More often than not, I spent the evenings scrubbing a sticky mix of sugar, pollen, and dirt from my neck and arms.

I saw FRESH for the first time last winter, in an old grocery building in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. The building was home to an urban gardening project and alternative school that I was writing about in my senior thesis. Just a few garden beds and a handful of activists were starting to repair broken links in our education, economic, social and environmental systems. It convinced me that creative ways of thinking about food—growing it, distributing it, eating it—have an enormous capacity to effect change.

I’ve been writing for almost as long as I’ve been gardening, and I’m looking forward to joining the discussion of more sustainable and just ways of growing and eating as a FRESH blogger. I’ll be doing so from Portland, Oregon, where I’ll also be planting radishes. Please leave your thoughts and questions in the comments section, or email me at


1 Comment

We'd love to hear yours!

  1. Sarah McElroy said:

    Enjoyed your blog and am looking forward to hearing more. We are currently moving to Oregon (a few acres just outside of Jacksonville) and am interested in raising chickens & having a small garden/berries/fruit trees. Any advice/insights you have will be appreciated!