Jonathan J. Halperin
Jonathan J. Halperin
Designing Research, Communications
and Strategies for Sustainability

Language and Sustainability for the 21st Century Food System

The words we use reflect the extent to which our thinking is clear or muddled. Speaker after speaker at The New York Times conference at Stone Barns on Food for Tomorrow spoke to the issue of words and meaning. Molly Jahn linked technology to its broader linguistic roots in technique and also observed that smart and wise are often not the same. She also urged us to understand that we lack the language we need to delve deeply into critical questions around farm systems, catastrophic risk, and the importance of shared knowledge to monitor global agricultural ecosystems.

Mark Bittman and Michel Pollan both noted the hubris embedded in the commonly posed question, “How do we feed the world?” Pollan wryly reframed this within the context of the uber-American radio show in which the Lone Ranger is surrounded by Comanche, Cherokee and Apache Indians and says that “we are in a heap of trouble.” And Tonto, the trusted sidekick, responds eloquently: “Uhh…What do you mean, 'We,' Kemo Sabe?”

The current enthusiasm around “farm to table” innovations sparked Tom Colicchio to draw everyone’s attention to the “to” as he noted that everything begins on the farm and ends on the table. The real challenge and opportunity is in what happens to food between farm and table.

Similarly, Ricardo Salvador asked us to think carefully about what we really mean by farming, especially when we fall into the habit of using the same word to describe the urban farming of a singular patio tomato plant and industrial agriculture as practiced on hundred-thousand acre farms across the Midwest.

And “industrial ag” or “big ag” are also linguistic phrases that we need to unpack and understand to more accurately describe the components of the food system. What we cannot describe, we are unlikely to be able to fix.

Between Farm and Table
Mario Batali (l), Andrea Reusing (r), and moderator Sam Sifton engage with Tom Colicchio as he dissects
"farm to table," observing that the "to" is critical - what happens to food between farm and table.


We needed an outside perspective on working with leading corporations and turned to Jonathan to assess our approach, refine our strategy, facilitate internal roll-out and help us execute. He helped us to think big, see new opportunities, reshape our communications and engage internal stakeholders. His counsel and ongoing support has been constructively provocative. Jonathan’s strategic thinking is keen and his facilitation skills are superior; he drills quickly to the underlying issues with a deft combination of determination and diplomacy.

more testimonials >

Tweets from Jonathan J. Halperin

Feb 4

 Jonathan J. Halperin Retweeted Civil Eats
Jonathan J. Halperin added,
Pay attention. Pay very close attention. This is just the beginning.
Civil Eats
Verified account @CivilEats
USDA removes animal welfare reports from its website
0 replies
0 retweets 1 like