Janina Grabs, EMA (Erasmus Mundus Association) Course Representative of Erasmus Mundus Master’s Programme, Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Policy Analysis, is certainly an interesting figure. In her old blog, she described herself as a Globetrotter, Foodie, Multilingual, and definitely a Chocoholic. She now runs a new and popular blog called ‘Food (Policy) for Thought’. Her passion for food policy is admirable and even contagious. Therefore, The Euroculturer concluded it is of interest for our readers to invite Janina and learn more about her love for sustainable food policy, some simple tips that we can do in our daily lives to support more sustainable food systems, and also her amazing Erasmus Mundus life.
Q1) Hello, Janina, nice to have you here. Could you briefly introduce yourself and your Erasmus Mundus Programme? In your opinion, what distinguishes your Master’s programme from others dealing with similar topics?
Hey there, thanks for having me! I’m originally German and was born in Berlin, but have lived in the USA, Switzerland, Canada, France, and Germany again since then. And I actually just moved to Sweden for the second year of my Master’s!
Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Policy Analysis (AFEPA) was born only 3 years ago and is a programme offered by the University of Bonn, Universite Catholique de Louvain, Corvinus University in Budapest, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya in Barcelona, and the Swedish Agricultural University (SLU) in Uppsala. I think that AFEPA really manages to merge the different fields that are touched by our food systems – both from the environmental as from the economic and political side. Thus, we also have a fantastic array of students with very diverse backgrounds who can teach each other a lot, from the animal science of dairy production to the political economy of selling the resulting milk products.
“AFEPA really manages to merge the different fields that are touched by our food systems…”
Q2) You studied Political Science at McGill and Science Po for your B.A. How did that background help you understand your current subject better? Also, why did you decide to do your Master’s degree in Europe, when you could have gone to another part of the world?
I think studying political science expands your horizons on how decisions in some parts of the world can affect outcomes in very different areas. As a result you are prevented from being too narrow-minded in looking at the impacts of certain policy decisions. Also, we learned to read and digest great amounts of information very quickly, which is extremely useful when faced with a 900 page economics textbook.
I was drawn back to Europe both because of considerations for my future career – with a European passport, it was more practical to acquire experience that will allow me to work in governments and policy analysis in a European setting – and because I love the lifestyle here. I may be a globetrotter but Europe still feels most like home.
“I may be a globetrotter but Europe still feels most like home…”
Q3) What do you like most about being an Erasmus Mundus student?
I am a restless spirit that gets bored easily and so I love the challenge and opportunities of exploring new places, settling in new cities and being faced with new languages and cultures. But of course, the best part is the people you meet from all parts of the world who introduce you to more aspects of your field of study – and life in general – that you had ever considered before.
Q4) Let’s talk about your blog now. Tell us a bit more about ‘Food (Policy) for Thought’ and how it all started. Also, who are the people regularly visiting your blog and what are they looking for?
As you mentioned, I was already familiar with blogging, having kept a travel blog semi-alive over several years, but I really wanted to focus more on the one topic that I felt most passionate about. In addition, we had a very long exam period where I had a lot of free time on my hands and no obligations other than studying – and we all know we can’t do that all day long. The blog gave me an excuse to look deeper into issues I would have otherwise only skimmed and to try to explain complex topics to laymen like myself. I think my regular readers come from all walks of life: they are students, mums that are looking to cook real food for their kids, farmers – and actually a lot of people whose blogs I follow myself. This again is such a fun back-and-forth between people with different perspectives and expertise, and the comments and feedback are the one thing that keeps me coming back.
“The blog gave me an excuse to look deeper into issues…”
Q5) What is the best part of being a blogger related to the subject that you are currently studying? Also, many people have hard time keeping their blogs running. How do you juggle all the course work and blogging?
Writing the blog gives me a reason to take a look outside of my textbook and to see how the concepts that we study actually apply in day-to-day life. Also, it helps me to keep up with the current literature in my field of study, which is very helpful now that the time to write my thesis is coming closer and closer. And as for the balancing question – I just came back from a 3-week semi-hiatus when I was swamped with starting a new job, moving (twice), exams and summer school course work. I think it is important not to beat yourself up about letting it go for a while until the dust settles as long as you do come back to it with more motivation and passion again afterwards. The worst path in my opinion is to keep writing something drudgingly just to keep up appearances – do it with passion or don’t do it at all.
“Do it with passion or don’t do it at all…”
Q6) In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge that gets in the way of sustainable food policy making? Also, are there differences among countries? What about the cooperation between countries?
Most humans always prefer the status-quo to any consideration of change coming into their life, especially if that change is a little more uncomfortable from a certain perspective. Right now we live in an era of cheap, plentiful, woefully unhealthy food that is wreaking havoc on our natural resources, public health and on our appreciation of the magic of cooking and eating together. Changing the food system requires changing mind-sets – once that is accomplished, everything else is easier. Maybe the mind-set of ‘supersizing everything’ and the ‘American diet’ is one of the most extreme examples .The USA can be seen as a case that is particularly challenging. Its industrialised food system has expanded beyond its borders. On the other hand, a focus on real, organic, fair traded food can also become a movement that expand over borders, as many multinational NGOs show – so it can really go both ways.
“Changing the food system requires changing mind-sets…”
Q7) Please give us some simple advice on what we can do in our daily lives to support a more sustainable food system.
I will give you three tips: Replacing a couple of meals a week by vegetarian alternatives can reduce your environmental footprint by a lot due to the resource-intensity of meat production. Reducing food waste is also an easy step to save resources. And finally, if you choose organic products from time to time you support a production method that is much gentler with the elements we and future generations depend on for our food.
“If you choose organic products, you support a production method that is better for us and future generations…”
Q8) What are your other passions?
As a self-identified foodie, I love to cook (vegetarian dishes from around the world) and bake; I adore travelling; and I like to do endurance sports like running and triathlons. Oh, and I just discovered sailing this summer, which might be my new favourite thing yet.
Q9) What is the first impression you have upon hearing the name of MA Euroculture? Let’s put it another way. If you met a student of MA Euroculture for the first time, what kind of questions would you ask to keep the person interested?
Well, of course I would ask all about where they come from, why they are interested in European culture and what they are currently working on. I think your Master is so flexible that these couple of questions would lead to discussions that would be very different from person to person, but each time fascinating in its own way.
Q10) Lastly, could you please tell us about your plans after graduating from Agricultural, Food and Environmental Policy Analysis Programme? What kind of work do you want to do? Also, will you still be a sustainable food policy blogger then?
Haha, I do hope I will manage to keep blogging for as long as possible! After finishing my Master, I would like to get my hands dirty either figuratively – working with European food policy for example in Brussels – or literally – doing some farming myself – before moving on to a PhD.
Thank you so much, Janina. We wish you all the best in everything you do, especially in your studies, blogging, and other amazing adventures waiting for you!
Interview by Eunjin Jeong, 2013-14 EMA Programme Representative of MA Euroculture.