Of Food and the Feminine

Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s has called Judy Wicks “one of the most amazing women I have ever met,” one who “continues to blaze new paths on the road to a truly sustainable, people-centered economy.” I caught up with Wicks, who will give the keynote address at a Slow Food Northern NJ gathering this Sunday, March 23rd.

Wicks, whose legendary White Dog Café in Philadelphia was among the first to feature local, organic food when it opened in 1983, is the author of the 2013 memoir, Good Morning, Beautiful Business: The Unexpected Journey of an Activist Entrepreneur and Local Economy Pioneer. It recounts her journey from owner of a small muffin shop to forging a national economic reform movement that promotes socially and environmentally responsible business practices – in other words, how to do well while doing good.

Wick has garnered humanitarian and lifetime achievement awards from the James Beard Foundation, the International Association of Culinary Professionals and Women Chefs and Restaurateurs.

You talk about the role of the feminine in building a new economy. What does that mean?
I mean the model of two energies that work together. Efficiency is the masculine, the ‘head,’ and nurturing is the feminine, the ‘heart.’ A farmer once told me that good farming is a marriage between efficiency and nurturing. I think that factory farming of animals is the epitome of our out-of-balance economy. With chickens, for example, it’s all about efficiency, nothing about nurturing. It’s about how little light, space, and food we can use to produce an egg at the lowest cost, without taking into consideration the needs of the chicken.

In general, business people and consumers have been trained to value transactions of the head, not the heart. The economy is all about money: we want the highest return on investment, the best price – the Walmart model. But low cost costs somebody: the animals, the people who work to produce it, the planet. We need more of the heart. We need to be mindful, when making transactions, of how it will affect other people.

I don’t want people to think that the ‘feminine’ means it’s about women. Women, in order to succeed in business, often need to act with more masculine energy, the one that focuses on efficiency.

You cofounded the original Free People’s Store (now Urban Outfitters) and the nationwide Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and founded Fair Food Philly. What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the moment I chose to share my restaurant sources, the local food suppliers I had amassed. I was at the point where I thought my major project was finished, which was to find and establish local sources. That, I thought, would be my competitive edge. Then I realized those farmers needed more than just my business and that rather than keep that competitive edge, I needed to share it. Also, I’m proud that in those days the White Dog paid a living wage to every employee, and donated 20 percent of profits. And to founding Fair Food. In short, when I went from competitive to cooperative.

What’s next?
I want to do more writing – maybe shorter pieces, maybe another book. I’m more of a doer than a researcher. I do, then I write about it. I’m interested in mentoring, too, and I’ll continue to work in developing ways to serve my local community.

What is your opinion of Slow Food?
I’ve served as a representative for my region at Terra Madre [the international Slow Food network conference]. Slow Food is an important organization that raises awareness of buying local, cooking local, fostering an appreciation for food that takes time to cook, and learning how to savor the difference.

ABOUT THIS SUNDAY’S EVENT:

It takes place Sunday, March 23, from 1 to 3:30 pm at the barn at Duke Farms in Hillsborough.

In addition to Wick’s keynote address, the afternoon includes a lunch of local foods prepared by Anthony Bucco of the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station, Dan Richer of Arturo’s in Maplewood and Razza in Jersey City and Diane Pinder of Donna & Company artisanal chocolates in Cranford.

Cost is $18 ($12 for Slow Food members), including lunch. For the complete agenda and to buy tickets, see Upcoming Events at slowfoodnnj.org.

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