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Goodbye, Josh

September 29, 2008

Tomorrow morning will mark the first work week at the Yale Sustainable Food Project without Josh Viertel. He’s accepted the job as the first president of Slow Food USA, and he’s off to Brooklyn. By some strange coincidence, a huge tree fell on the middle terrace on his last day of work.

Two things Josh impressed upon me as an intern: the centrality of surface area to volume ratios in all aspects of life, and the idea of confident grace. Confident grace, to me, is the power to move without second-guessing yourself, to act with the courage of your convictions. It is the ability to slide a pizza into the oven in one clean motion: wind up, release and follow-through.

Sometimes confident grace will cause you to do things like become really excited about a skid-steering bobcat and then dig up the entire oven bed on the last day of summer, but aside from that, it seemed to work for Josh a shocking amount of the time. Not only did he got the weed-whacker working just by pulling harder than any of us had the wherewithal to do, he made friends with the entire Yale administration from the second he got on campus. Not only could he tie flies fast and efficiently, he could hold an entire room’s attention even if he wasn’t necessarily making sense.

Hopefully, Josh can do what he did for the YSFP for Slow Food USA, a somewhat confused organization. They’ve one battles over turkey breeds and they’ve been instrumental in putting the word “localvore” into the national vocabulary, but the industrial food system has kept on trucking, the obesity rates have kept rising, and the fuel has kept burning. There’s work to be done. I saw Josh talk in one of his first public addresses as the president of Slow Food USA, at an eat-in in San Francisco. He talked about the need to transform the overriding message of the slow food movement into a discussion of universal rights. Good, clean, fair food for every man woman and child in the United States. It’s a worthy goal.

The new office of the YSFP at 246 Church street will have some changes – a new administrative assistant, a full-time farm manager. Under the leadership of Melina Shannon-Dipietro, we’re growing our programs and doing more on campus than we have any other year. The YSFP was built by students and will continue to be, and so the heart of the project will remain intact. It will be, however, sad.

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