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Otter Interview: Anne O’Brien talks good food

Anne by Cathy Xiao Chen

Anne O’Brien talks good food. Slow food, fair food, supermarket food and affordable food.

How effective do you think consumers can be in creating positive change through better purchasing decisions?

I think better purchasing decisions are one tool in the toolbox that we, as consumers, have to build more ethical economies. This is used well in combination with collective actions: when together people call into question the supply chain decisions of companies, and when they build cultures around the different ideal of economy that they want to support. A good example is the farmers market. I don’t have much time or money at the moment to go regularly, but when I do, I am inspired by the way they can nourish people socially, nutritionally and economically.

I believe consumers need a public dimension to their actions, which includes research, debate, analysis, institutional change and policy change. I’m inspired by United Students Against Sweatshops in the US for their strategic approach to supply chains.

What issues do you care about the most when choosing products and services?

I juggle concerns of affordability, environmental issues, workers rights, health and taste. I went grocery shopping last night, and the criteria I used varied a lot. I read the labels, and try not to buy from the big supermarket home brands; I’m concerned about the pressure they place on their suppliers. I’m on a budget as a PhD student, so sometimes I buy the cheapest option (e.g. I rotate between the super cheap milk, the brands that return farmers a liveable surplus and the organic milk).

How do you persuade other people to act on the issues you care about?

I prefer asking questions- listening and responding- to overt persuading. I try to first identify a shared concern that both of us care about, and suggest a certain action that could be effective in addressing our shared concern. I’m wary of imposing my views on others.

Tell us about a product you can’t live without.

A violin. When I lived overseas a for five months a few years ago I missed my violin, so I rented one out and learned my old pieces again without the music.

I’m influenced by sociologist Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman, in that I like supporting livelihoods that involve the slow development of skill. The slow food movement supports this ethos in the services and food industries.

Where would our readers be most likely to find you at 10 am on Saturday morning?

I would probably be still in my apartment eating and savouring breakfast!

Photo by Cathy Xiao Chen


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