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Have you heard of Food Day, Foodstock or Slow Food? These amazing causes aim to shed light on ways that we can repair our food perception and systems. Here at Bamboo, we love to hear stories about people going out and taking charge. We would like to introduce you to Lilia Smelkova of Food Day.
Lilia, a Belarus native, spent 10 years championing initiatives all over the world for Slowfood International, and she is now the Food Day USA Campaign Manager. Surprisingly, this type of advocacy was not genetic or deeply engrained as a result of a rigorous parental curriculum. Lilia did not seek the cause, but, rather, the cause found her.
She by chance took up residence not far from the Slowfood Headquarters in Italy. As an English-speaking student whose second language was Italian, she took an English job at Slow Food through a friend. The rest is, well, history.
We caught up with Lilia at the deeply inspiring Terroir Symposium directed by Arlene Stein. Lilia spoke on the importance of chef’s roles in food advocacy. We asked her about her first experiences with food movements.
“I felt awkward at first,” she reflected. “Coming from Belarus, where food was a part of our culture, I found it strange that people were trying to save what I thought was the norm.”
Lilia, who grew up around farmers, harvested crops and tended to animals, and, early on, she was exposed to the same good food systems that she strives to create today. We wondered whether there was an epiphany or a memorable moment that caused her to choose advocacy as her calling.
She explained, “Travelling to countries around the world, and seeing that food issues are the same everywhere, built the base. There are so many traditions out there that are not valued, but, rather, destroyed. Then, I found myself in Uzbekistan. We went to look at preserving wild almond groves. A man who had returned to the area saw only bald hills and began to weep.”
Lilia also recalls various childhood memories, which help to motivate her.
“I remember having to pick currents at my grandmother’s house in Minsk over summer before being allowed to play with my friends,” she reflected. “I would spend hours filling a large bucket. Now I see these tiny containers that are so expensive. It was fun to realize that all those berries from my childhood were valuable.”
We can all relate to expensive small containers of berries. Some may even have similar experiences from their youth. However, if berries don’t awaken the inner advocate within us, what else can we do?
Lilia says to think small. When she tackles anything, big or small, she starts with the small things. She also advises to find your place within the system. Look at the different levels, and consider getting involved on a personal, family, community, neighborhood, city or state level, all the way to a full-out advocate.
Here at Bamboo, we, too, like to keep it simple, to share food stories, people and events that inspire. Lilia Smetlova is an inspiration to us all.