Steinhardt Alumna Strives For Equity Through Food Policy

NYU Steinhardt News

Steinhardt Alumna Strives For Equity Through Food Policy

Talia Ralph (MA ’15), an alumna from our Food Studies program, is combining her love for delicious food, impeccable journalistic skills, and law school training to create more equitable food systems as an intern at Harvard’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation. We talked with Talia to learn more about her interest in food justice and the hands-on work she is doing to implement more effective and ethical food policies. 

What sparked your interest in food justice? 

As early on as I can remember, I've loved food — when I went to summer camp at the ripe age of eight years old, my letters home consisted largely of descriptions of mealtimes (my mom still has proof). These days, my favorite thing to do when I get home from a long day of law school is cook a meal and listen to a Heritage Radio Network podcast. As I got older, I began to realize that food was political, and it intertwined with a lot of other issues I care deeply about, like immigration, race and gender politics, and workers' rights. Not only is food deeply important to ensuring health, quality of life, and equality for people, but it's also a daily opportunity for joy I think everyone should be able to tap. I want everyone to have access to the kind of food that makes them both happy and healthy. So in 2012, I began focusing my journalism work more on food policy, applied to NYU Steinhardt’s Food Studies program, and the rest is history. 

Can you explain some of the work you are doing as a fellow at Harvard's Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation?

I've been following the work of Harvard’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation since I was a food policy reporter in New York, and our director Emily Broad Leib is one of my professional heroes. As soon as I got into law school, I knew I was going to try my best to work here. We work primarily with legislators, governments, non-profits, and communities to improve food systems through law and policy. This summer, I'm working on food waste reduction policies and trainings at the local, state, and national level, and integrating the needs and perspective of the Navajo Nation into the next Farm Bill – an omnibus piece of legislature encompassing many elements of United States food policy including how and what types of food are grown.


How did our Food Studies program help you advance your career as a food storyteller and 
policymaker?

The Food Studies program blew my mind the very first week, when my Food Policy professor Marion Nestle assigned Behind the Kitchen Door, a book about restaurant workers' rights by Saru Jayaraman. I'd eaten in restaurants my entire life, and never thought about some of the issues Saru and her organization ROC United work tirelessly to remedy, from wage imbalances to racism and sexism in the industry. That class alone probably set me on the current career path I'm on now: I'd like to be a food lawyer who helps restaurant and farm workers assert their rights and lead better, healthier work lives. But aside from that, the people I met, the professors I learned from, and the opportunities I was able to take advantage of while at NYU – completing a fellowship at media outlet Food52, hosting and producing food policy and pizza shows for Heritage Radio Network, and helping Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Michael Moss with social media and research for his forthcoming book – were one-in-a-million. I'm still in touch with many of my colleagues and professors to this day, and they keep me engaged and inspired to work for better food systems.