Eric Holt-Giménez was Executive Director of Food First from 2006 to 2019. He is the editor of the Food First book Food Movements Unite! Strategies to Transform Our Food Systems; co-author of Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice with Raj Patel and Annie Shattuck; and author of the book Campesino a Campesino: Voices from Latin America’s Farmer to Farmer Movement for Sustainable Agriculture and of many academic, magazine and news articles. Of Basque and Puerto Rican heritage, Eric grew up milking cows and pitching hay in Point Reyes, CA, where he learned that putting food on the table is hard work. After studying rural education and biology at the University of Oregon and Evergreen State College, he traveled through Mexico and Central America, where he was drawn to the simple life of small-scale farmers.
Successful social movements are formed by integrating activism with livelihoods. These integrated movements create the sustained social pressure that produces political will—the key to changing the structures that presently work against sustainability.
When he arrived to work in the community of Vicente Guerrero in the impoverished state of Tlaxcala, Mexico in 1977, the place was surrounded by eroded and deforested hills and farmers were not able to grow enough food to feed their families. But the village did have a small elementary school and an energetic young mayor and Eric enthusiastically joined his efforts to revitalize the community. They started a school garden, a water project, a health clinic and a sewing coop. Several Mayan farmers from Guatemala visited at just the right time to lead a field course on soil and water conservation that helped restore the degraded environment and boost farmer’s yields. From that experience, the Campesino a Campesino (farmer to farmer) movement was born. In the four decades since, this peasant-led sustainable agriculture movement has spread steadily across Latin America—creating innovative farming methods, raising yields and improving livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of small farmers and their families.
After spending over twenty-five years with the resourceful farmers of Central America and Mexico, Eric holds a deep appreciation for the value and power of building local food systems. But he has also become painfully aware that working locally is never going to be enough to bring about the larger changes that are needed: “Small farmers and underserved urban communities need changes in national food policies and international trade rules to have a fighting chance of feeding themselves and building healthy, prosperous livelihoods.”
Eric has a MSc. in International Agricultural Development from University of California at Davis and a PhD in Environmental Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz . He has taught Development Studies at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, Boston University and the National Gastronomic University in Pollenzo, Italy. Prior to working at Food First, he served as the Latin America Program Manager for the Bank Information Center (BIC) in Washington DC.
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In Eric’s words, “successful social movements are formed by integrating activism with livelihoods. These integrated movements create the sustained social pressure that produces political will—the key to changing the financial, governmental and market structures that presently work against sustainability.”
Eric’s latest book, published jointly by Food First Books and Monthly Review Press in October 2017, is A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism: Understanding the Political Economy of What We Eat.