5 Questions for an Eater Entrepreneur: Gail Simmons
Last month at Babson, Entrepreneur-in-Residence Gail Simmons co-hosted the fourth Babson Food Day alongside Food Sol and fellow foodie Entrepreneur-in-Residence Andrew Zimmern. Food Day and all year, Gail epitomizes food entrepreneurship and eater entrepreneurship of all kinds, inspiring and activating students to uncover and act on their own desire for a better food system.
Gail is a trained culinary expert, food writer, special projects director for Food & Wine and dynamic television personality, having lent her extensive expertise as a permanent judge on the Emmy-winning series Top Chef, now in its 12th season – here in Boston. Her interview originally appears on Examiner.com.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your food journey.
A. It started twenty years ago with a passion for eating, travel, curiosity about global culture, and a vague idea that I wanted to write about food. Since then, I’ve come to realize how expansive, diverse and inclusive the food space really is. I’ve found my place within it not just as a reporter in a literal sense, but also as an explorer, uncovering and discovering people who are changing how we eat and communicate about food, and helping to ensure that their voices are heard.
I’ve worked as a line cook, bartender, recipe tester and research assistant, event producer, writer and editor, food critic, judge, teacher, and TV producer. But all of these roles come down to the same mission: to share great food experiences with as many people as possible and to be a cheerleader for chefs and food artisans around the globe.
Q: To what extent are your food choices and purchases reflective of your personal values? Would you share some of those values?
A: We all make food choices every day that impact the greater world in which we live and the people around us, as well as of course our own health. Whenever possible, I buy, cook and eat food that is made, grown or produced by small farmers and local businesses, sustainably and with fair practices for both the planet and the people employed to handle it.
I make a conscious effort to eat as much food as possible that comes in its raw state or is minimally processed. That way I can retain somewhat of a connection to where it is from and how it came to be mine. By choosing to spend my dollars on eating this way, I not only take better care of myself and the people I am responsible for feeding, but also join others in supporting a food system that cares for people and planet, and creates opportunities for both to thrive.
Q: “Eating is an inherently entrepreneurial act.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
A: Eating is absolutely entrepreneurial! How can it not be when we spend so much of our income and time engaged in the act? Every time we eat or make food we make a statement about who we are, what we believe, and the people and businesses we support. We build the business of ourselves, our health, our families and our communities through the choices we make in our kitchens, cafeterias, markets, restaurants and cafes. If you think of each of us as an individual small business unit, then put together we add up to a trillion-dollar industry that takes its cues from and is driven by the unique habits of each and every member.
Q: Given all that you’ve learned along your food journey so far, what entrepreneurial actions or decisions have you made when it comes to meal planning in your daily life?
A:As a new mom, I’ve decided to make all of my baby daughter’s food myself. I cook it for her at home and have her around while I do it to be part of the process. This has not only ensured that she eats almost exclusively organic and local produce, meat and grains, but has also helped me to reexamine my own eating habits. We eat at home more often and eat more simply and cleanly at every meal, doing less to our food to change or manipulate it.
We shop at our local farmers market every week and I purchase the majority of my food from local small business in my neighborhood, opting for smaller, local brands over mass produced brands whenever possible, even if that means spending more. We bring very little refined and processed food into our home, we never eat at chain restaurants, and we make a point to eat breakfast and dinner together as a family almost every day. In my job as a food “cheerleader” I do my best to champion local food products and businesses daily.
Q: Do you feel that through food, you have agency in affecting the food system? How so?
A. Yes! The way I eat says a lot about who I am. If you were to look at a week’s worth of my food choices, you would see that I am consistent in my concern for my own health and the health of our food system.
My choices directly affect the people and places where I spend my money and over time this certainly has bearing on the greater system as a whole, helping to create a larger market for these products and restaurants and serving a like-minded population.
The more of us that commit to it, the greater the impact will be. As I spend much of my time advocating for young chefs and rising talents in the food industry, I hope that I am planting seeds for change that will grow into more educated and invigorated eaters and cooks who in turn will pass the message on.