Alumni Spotlight: Brooke Kahl ’18

Brooke Kahl

Interviewer: Asha McElroy

Date: September 2021

Project Manager, foodNEST 2.0 Mary Ann Swetland Center for Environmental Health Case Western Reserve University

How did you become interested in sustainable food systems? 
I studied Organizational Studies and minored in Sustainable Food Systems at UM. Within Organizational Studies, I studied organizations that focused on the intersection of public health and the environment, which naturally includes food system work because of the overlap between the environment and health that is inherent in the food system. 

Food, Energy, and Environmental Justice (ENVION 101) taught by SFSI affiliate Dr. John Vandermeer was a lightswitch course for me because it showed me the human health and social justice impacts of the food system. 

How did Food Literacy impact your career trajectory?
I love Food Literacy for All.  I kept listening and watching the Food Literacy for All classes,  even after I finished the requirements for the minor. Food Literacy for All draws an impressive roster of speakers, who are leading the way in food systems change. It’s a way to stay up to date with research and what’s going on in the field –and it’s engaging and digestible. I also watch the Fast Food for Thought videos.

What internship experiences helped you gain experience working in the food system ? 
I interned at three different places that related to food systems in different ways, which helped me see the food system from various lenses:  

I did an internship at the Chef’s Garden, which is a farm that focuses on regenerative farming practices in Ohio. I learned a lot about agriculture and the priorities of growers while there. 

I also did an internship with Fundacion CONIN in Argentina, which is an anti-childhood hunger foundation in South America. I  worked with Nutritionists on childhood nutrition in Villa 21-23 outside of Buenos Aires. 

I also supported Dr.Steve Samford’s research, who’s a professor in Organizational Studies at the University of Michigan. He was looking at the impact that NAFTA and the non-traditional agriculture industry had on living and working conditions in three states in Mexico. 

What is advice you would give students interested in pursuing a career in food systems?
Like any work or effort at a systems level, work in food systems can feel unwieldy at times. I contemplated: Did it make sense to go into the food business and shift the culture that way? Or did it make sense to work for a nonprofit? Did it make sense to work in research? At what level can I work in the food system and make the most impact? Where can you find those levers to shift the culture and tip it in the right direction? 

A few years out of school, I got the advice that, since you can approach the food system from so many angles, consider your preferences when choosing an industry. Consider your skills, values, and what you like to do, then determine which angle of food systems work you will be most successful in and will most enjoy.

Do you want to be a lawyer and work in the food system and work on food system change? Do you want to be a dietitian? You can work in the food system. 

It is also helpful to consider what level of the food system you are most interested in (hyper-local, regional, national, global, etc.). 

How did you find your way to your current position?? 

I followed the work of the Swetland Center for Environmental Health as a way to stay connected to the Cleveland food system. Eventually, I set up an informational interview with someone on the Swetland team. When a position opened up, I was able to jump in.