As director of The Culinaria Center for Food Law, Policy and Culture, Shawn "Pepper" Bowen (www.pepperbowen.com) recently launched her podcast Green Pepper, in which she talks to law and policy makers about their food memories and food policy. Bowen, a local attorney, spoke with Gambit about the podcast and how food laws affect where our food comes from and who has access to it.
What does the practice of food law entail?
Bowen: I'm an environmentalist by trade and a food lawyer by choice. Predominantly, I work with fledgling businesses, doing consulting — whether it be on land use or value-added products, and what they can and cannot get to market, which is part of food law. I also spend a good amount of time working on policy. At Culinaria Center for Food Law, Policy and Culture, we're not only working on food and access and security and sovereignty, but we're utilizing law as policy to make those things happen.
What I do as an attorney is work with small businesses, whether it's an urban farmer or someone who might be making jam and trying to sell it at a farmers market. I could also work with folks on their taxes or converting an itinerant restaurant — also known as a pop-up — to a brick-and-mortar. From a policy perspective, I use my legal knowledge to look at the existing laws and municipal code as well as state statutes and try to figure out how we can utilize what's there.
What food policy matters are you addressing in New Orleans?
B: Sovereignty. Food sovereignty is often considered the ability of people just to be able to feed themselves. ... One of the things we consider is not just who is here (now) and the great things that we've accomplished, but also who is able to feed themselves, who always has been able to do so, and how we can bridge the gaps. Also land access. Land access is a pretty big deal for urban farmers. For those who are trying to grow things in the city and make it available for folks who are local, there are a number of implications as far as the economy, nutrition and access. Wages and housing prices are huge for policy in getting to food. You need money in order to purchase food, and if you're growing it in your backyard and you're renting, you don't always have those options. One of the other major things I work on is invasive species, like Asian carp or feral hogs or wild boar, and the impacts of those on different types of animals as well as other environmental causes that are contributing to the depletion of the coast line.
What was the impetus behind the podcast?
B: I spend a lot of time explaining what food law is and helping people understand what food policy looks like.
As I started having conversations with policymakers, they were not sure what they were supposed to do, but the decisions they make absolutely affect where our food is and how we can get to it. It's really to segue into conversations about land use and land access.
Our first guest was (New Orleans District E City Councilwoman) Cyndi Nguyen, who came on and cooked her favorite food memory, which is ultimately our process. Through food, just as you would around any other table, we have this conversation and from food memory we have a really great talk about where the food comes from, what your food culture actually looks like and how it is that we can get to a middle ground and discuss what policy needs to look like and how we need to shape it to make those things occur.