To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’re interviewing women at the Center for Progressive Reform about how they’re building a more just America, whether by pursuing a just transition to clean energy, protections for food workers, or legal support for Native Americans. This week, we spoke with Board Member Gilonne d’Origny, a translational advisor for the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington, which designs new proteins to solve problems in medicine, energy, and technology.
CPR: What motivated you to become an expert in food policy and a voice for equal justice in America? Is there historical context to this or a moment in history that stood out to you as motivation or inspiration?
GdO: Since my time at university, I’ve believed that food systems must change given the considerable carbon footprint of producing and supplying food, and the potential of rewilding and regenerative agriculture to capture and sequester carbon. Policy is foundational to system change, especially by putting a price on pollution and value — or incentives — on nature.
CPR: What do you see as the highest priority in this field and what are the barriers to change? How does/might your work affect women in particular? Are there inequalities you’ve witnessed that you’re working to change?
GdO: The highest priority is the concept of “polluter pays,” followed by instituting subsidies for companies that operate under best practice, and then providing support for the most vulnerable and disenfranchised to access healthy foods. (The USDA already facilitates this with food stamps for farmers’ markets.) When changes are made, especially when using economic levers, there are winners and losers. The losers with these priorities would be big food and big agriculture industries — highly centralized and fossil fuel-powered. Given that pollution harms low-income communities first, by changing the system, theoretically, inequities will be systematically adjusted.
CPR: If you could have Congress or President Biden’s ear for an afternoon, what would you recommend?
GdO: I would recommend that the real social cost of carbon (i.e., not the $50 price, but something much bigger) is added to all price tags, including food, so that, for example, an apple grown on a regenerative orchard delivered in a basket is cheaper than an industrially produced apple delivered in a plastic bag.
CPR: Who inspires you?
GdO: Sheldon Whitehouse (U.S. Senator), Bill McKibben (climate organizer and activist), Rachel Carson (naturalist and author), Cina Lawson (Togolese politician).
CPR: Who in particular would benefit from the policy reform you seek?
GdO: While there are specific communities that could benefit from more sustainable agriculture and food policies and by putting a price on pollution (e.g., Black, Brown, low-income communities), I believe that systematic policy changes could benefit all people.