Bummed Out About the Election? These 5 Food System Heroes Will Brighten Your Day

Last Update: June 22, 2023

Are you a bit down on humanity these days? We don’t blame you. So are we. As our two candidates for the highest office in the land rip one another to shreds, it seems like we’re more divided as a nation than ever. Kind of makes us want to look at pictures of puppies all day.

We don’t have any puppies for you, but we have the next-best thing: folks who are taking on a massive, nutrition-deficient food system and working to build a better food supply for all. Let the stories of these food system heroes wash over you, lighten up your day, and inspire you to do your part as well!

Ron Finley, Los Angeles

You may have already heard of Ron Finley. He went viral a few years back for his 2013 TED Talk, in which he described the role he’s taken on in his rough food desert neighborhood of South Los Angeles: “Guerilla Gardener.” Ron didn’t want today’s L.A. youth to experience the lack of access to fresh food he grew up with, so he quietly took matters into his own hands. He’s built an army of “renegade gardeners” who plant food along median strips, in yards, and wherever they can. Ron’s work is a double-win: good food all-star and inspiration to the youth he works with. @RonFinleyHQ

Saru Jayaraman, Oakland, CA

Food labor—at all places along the chain—is increasingly a focus for justice-minded activists. We’re waking up to the reality that we can’t have nutritious, sustainable food if the humans who provide it are mistreated or not given a fair wage. Saru Jayaraman deserves a lot of credit for helping us wake up. She’s the founder of the Restaurant Opportunity Centers United (ROC) and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley. Saru has built ROC up to more than 18,000 worker members worldwide, along with 200 employer partners—all working to build a food system that treats every human life equally. @SaruJayaraman

Gary Hirshberg, Vermont

Gary Hirshberg is not your typical chairman of a big corporation. He’s founded Stonyfield Organic, a leading organic food company making high-quality yogurts, among other products. But Hirshberg is also an activist. He’s a passionate supporter of organic food, but he’s probably best-known as a leading force behind mandatory GMO labeling, serving as chairman of the Just Label It initiative. @Gary_Hirshberg

Smita Narula, New York

Her résumé is pretty intense—and long—but Smita Narula has been singularly focused on one issue her whole career: good food as a human right. She holds up a mirror to governments around the world, including our own, reminding them of the universally recognized norm that nations ensure, in a non-discriminatory manner, that food is accessible, available, adequate, and sustainable. @SmitaNarula

Denise O’Brien, Ames, Iowa

Iowa native Denise O’Brien has raised sustainable turkeys and chickens for almost four decades, but the scope of her work goes beyond her farm. In 1997, she founded the Women Food in Agriculture Network (WFAN) to organize, network, and share information between women working for sustainable agriculture and a healthy food system. She’s been a fierce advocate for family farms, sustainable agriculture, and the role of women in food and agriculture—inspiring work that has taken her from her farm to the Iowa State House to Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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