Six years ago, Josh Viertel dreamed of bringing more sustainable food to Yale’s dining halls. Now, he is setting his sights on a bigger target: America.
Viertel, a co-director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, will resign his post at Yale in October to accept a newly created position as president of Slow Food USA, a nonprofit organization working nationally to promote a sustainable- and fair-food system.
Slow Food USA is one of 130 international chapters around the globe tasked with promoting a “good, clean and fair” food system, Viertel explained: environmentally sound and with prices both fair to farmers and affordable to all consumers.
“And what Yale has done,” he said, “is to do all this — at Yale.”
Bringing Yale to the forefront of the sustainability movement, he said, is his proudest accomplishment.
“When I first got to [YSFP], I felt that if I left, the Project would go away,” Viertel said. “But now I know it’s institutionally stable. … It is hard, emotionally, to leave, but to head a global movement [at Slow Food] … was too much to pass up.”
The news of Viertel’s resignation comes at a “moment of great growth” for YSFP, said Co-Director Melina Shannon-DiPietro, who will assume full responsibility as the Project’s director come Oct. 1.
Shannon-DiPietro lauded Viertel, with whom she founded the Project, saying she is proud that an international organization had looked to Yale to recruit its leadership.
Slow Food’s decision to hire Viertel, who graduated from Harvard University in 2001, followed a five-month deliberation process with the organization’s board of directors, under which 90 candidates were originally considered.
“[That they chose me] says wonderful things about what Yale has done for the environment, and it speaks volumes about the Project itself,” Viertel said.
Shannon-DiPietro echoed this sentiment, saying she was stunned and humbled when, at last week’s Slow Food Nation conference in San Francisco, for example, nearly 5 percent of the audience comprised Yale students or graduates — an achievement she attributed to Viertel’s leadership.
Yale professor and Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Kelly Brownell, who has known both Viertel and Shannon-DiPietro since the creation of the YSFP, said he is confident Slow Food made the right choice.
“It really suits [Viertel’s] skills and interests,” Brownell said. “And the Yale Sustainable Food Project now has national visibility and is being used as a model for other programs.”
Once Viertel assumes his post at Slow Food, he said he will work to galvanize a national network of members — activists, farmers and students — that is broken down into local chapters, creating a regional force behind the movement to change agricultural and food practices.
Although Viertel said he is certain YSFP is secure in Shannon-DiPietro’s hands, the Project still has a long way to go, he acknowledged. A central priority for the Project, he said, is to continue the work that has been done to revolutionize dining-hall menus.
“Whereas 30 percent of the menu is seasonal, ethical and ecological, I believe we have a moral imperative to make this number 100 percent,” he said.
Both Viertel and Shannon-DiPietro stressed that financial support from the University and a growing alumni network are necessary to achieving such a goal.
“I look forward to seeing these things happen without me,” he said.
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