Female #FoodHeroes

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin is a writer, public speaker, podcaster, and activist covering food, health, parenting, science, and their intersection. You can find her work online at several channels including SciMoms.com and Forbes. She also hosts a bi-weekly podcast, Point of Inquiry, for the Center for Inquiry. She also works at her family business, Genome International – genome.com, which her parents founded in the 1990s.

Why do you love your job?

My favorite part of what I do is the brilliant people that I’m lucky enough to call colleagues, friends, and internet friends. Helping people, especially parents, sift through the vast piles of information and separate the credible wheat from the spurious or downright misleading chaff, is fulfilling.

So much misinformation in the food sphere is targeted directly at parents, and moms in particular. It’s exploitative: misleading people about the safety of the food we put in our children’s mouths keeps us worried about the wrong things, and distracts us from really tackling the issues that should bother us.

As I wrote in my Skeptical Inquirer column, “As predatory as organizations and industries that prey on parents’ fears have proven, it’s important to stress again that several of these fear-driven movements in the food and health spheres are rooted in some very justified concerns. There are plenty of facts to show that we should worry about our kids’ breakfasts. Obesity rates have risen dramatically, children are bombarded with predatory marketing of added sugars and empty calories, and far too many kids don’t have access to nutritious breakfasts.”

How did you get here?

It started when my daughter was born eight years ago. I grew up loving science but was apathetic about communicating about these issues until I became a mom. The overwhelming anxiety of suddenly being in charge of a new life can be hard for anyone. For me, the fear was worse than typical new parent anxiety—I had postpartum OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). As I forayed into parenting and navigated my extreme obsession with keeping my baby safe, I also zealously sought parenting information.

I encountered only slivers of credible advice in a veritable ocean of fact-scarce but well-meaning blogs, videos, mainstream media articles and even disinformation disguised as consumer advocacy. You can read more about my story here, but long story short, I started blogging about food and health for parenting site Grounded Parents in 2013 as a hobby. My work struck a chord with a larger and larger audience, and soon I was covering food and health for more and more outlets.

What is your advice for young women wanting to contribute to sustainable food and farming?

I’m not a farmer, but my work has brought me to lots of farms, and I’ve met some amazing women (and men!) in agriculture along the way. Coming from that perspective, I see that a lot of women are already doing their part in contributing to sustainable food and farming. But given the challenges in feeding the world’s growing population while preserving and healing the environment, it’s also important to be intellectually honest about the future. For example, a growing body of evidence suggests that lowering global consumption of red meat is one important component in preserving our natural resources— I’ve seen some defensiveness from the ag world on this, but I recommend taking a step back and really examining what this means.

 

How does agriculture need to change to be fit for the future?

Wow, that’s an ambitious and crucial question with a hugely complex answer, and I commend those doing the future-facing work, including those in industry, academia, government, on the farm, in the media, and more.

If I had to give one answer:  It’s imperative that we view food and agriculture through the broad lens it warrants. Food and ag don’t exist in a silo— food is life, and therefore anything involving the food industry and agriculture are inextricably woven into the socioeconomic and sociopolitical landscapes. This means that food has everything to do with issues that some of us don’t consider. Take the issue of race as just one example— racial disparities in access to nutritious food are tied closely to racial disparities in housing, health outcomes, academic achievement, and far more.

What’s one challenge you face as a woman in agriculture and what do you think needs to be done to overcome this?

I’m not only a woman doing work that intersects with ag— I’m a woman of color. I’ve attended plenty of food and ag related conferences, tours, and other events (and I’ve also lived in Wisconsin for 32 years, so farming is all around me). At the majority of these events, I’m either the only person of color, or one of a paltry few. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t blame the organizers, because this is a industry-wide (and society-wide) issue.

A great start would be striving to increase awareness of the lack of diversity in agriculture. This isn’t just an issue of appearances—food, like I mentioned, is tied to all aspects of life and society, so representation is crucial. Organizations like Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) have taken up this endeavor, but it needs much wider support.

 

Kavin is just one of many inspirational women working in agriculture. Visit our Female #FoodHeroes page to hear from other women working to improve plant science and nutrition.