Social innovator coach Julie Engel was conducting an action-learning lesson in a Babson MBA classroom. She told the 60 students from around the world: “Everybody stand up. First, I want you to walk around like you are an expert. C’mon. Don’t hold back. Be as expert-y as you possibly can. Notice what it feels like in your body. Now, walk like you’re curious. Notice what this new experience feels like. Let’s compare.”
Through the exaggeration, the contrasts were clear: Walking like experts felt rigid. There was lack of eye contact. We knew we knew something important – and that’s what counted. Walking like we were curious was a wholly different experience. We were excited and full of wonder. We wanted to interact and share.
The walking exercise demonstrates a distinction in mindset. When you walk like you’re curious, you’re more likely to invite others in and allow their thoughts and ideas to leave impressions on you – and maybe even reshape your thinking. Every interaction has value.
Unfortunately much of our food conversation is, fundamentally, a food fight. It’s one force rising up against another: Little Food versus Big Food; Organic versus Conventional; Local versus Global; Grass versus Corn, non-GMO versus GMO.
Even as one collects expertise through conversation and engagement in food, there’s a real benefit to staying curious. You get to evolve with the food evolution. You get to find or create partnerships and pathways that are not readily obvious.
(Just look at Steve Ritz – now on TED after ground-shaking at the second-annual TEDx Manhattan: Changing the Way We Eat earlier this year. This man is curiosity incarnate.)
Staying open is not easy, but it is so vitally needed. Food is the mass medium of our time. It is personal and universal. It is primal. It binds us to our tribe, our identity, our very life.
FAKE GRIMLOCK commanded us to BE ON FIRE. Those deeply concerned about food do burn. But we must learn to burn wisely. Rage, blame-gaming and word wars are not wise fires. We need creativity (creativity demands curiosity), experimentation, and a sense of ownership.
This is your food system. You eat from it. You shape it with your dollars, your votes, your candid and curious conversations with friends and family around the dinner table. So do I.
Championing change for our food is not for the faint of heart. It requires tremendous personal discipline and stamina. It requires walking like we’re curious – even when we know that those around us still prefer – and may even expect – expertise.
Everyone eats or they die. Everyone wants health and sufficiency for self and family. Everyone wants choice and a sense of community.
Such universal food meta-values run deep and long into our past. They connect us across borders and bounds. Let’s build from them – rather than start the conversation from where we feel divided.
In this historic moment of global attention on food, let’s seize the opportunity to ask ourselves and others: Where are we on the same plate? How could we co-create and share the path?
None of us can ever make the change we seek from a table for one.