'Food, Inc.' Lifestyle Award Winner: Despi Ross

The documentary drove this Indiana resident first to change her own diet, then to focus on our food system as a whole.

(Photo by Lauren Wade)

Nov 24, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Indianapolis native Despi Ross, winner of the Food, Inc. Lifestyle Award, didn’t quite know what to do after she watched the documentary for the first time. She had been “intellectually aware” of factory farming beforehand, she says, knowing that to produce as much cheap food as the agriculture sector does, “something terrible must have been going on behind the curtain.”

Still, Ross says, before watching the movie, she and her husband “would drive from Indianapolis to his hometown to visit his mother, and we would just drive through all of this G.M. corn and not even realize what it was.”

After her husband turned her on to the documentary, she was overwhelmed by the extent of what was hiding behind that curtain. “After, I was horrified. I was horrified that I had been complicit for this to happen,” she says.

Figuring out what, exactly, to do in light of these revelations wasn’t the easiest task. Ross found few local resources and didn’t know whom to turn to with questions, and she says trying to make informed decisions at the supermarket overwhelmed her.

“We went to the grocery store and would just stare at it, not knowing what to buy,” she remembers.

Fear turned into inspiration, however, and as the couple went about completely rethinking the way they approached food, Ross discovered that shopping at the farmers market, buying meat from local farms, and preparing their own meals had more than a culinary effect. Once asthmatic and overweight, Ross found she needed less medication, and her weight was dropping.

“It was just a really awesome side effect,” she says of the health benefits provided by her new diet.

Somewhere along the way, what had begun as a personal lifestyle change turned into more of an activist mission. Early on, Ross started a blog, which eventually shifted from personal insights about her family’s efforts to move away from the industrialized food supply to a resource center for others looking to make similar changes in their lives. Offline, Ross got involved in the local Slow Food chapter and began attending anti-GMO protests and writing letters about food policy–related issues to area politicians. For her, the next thing to change isn’t personal—it’s the system as a whole.

“As consumers, we have the power to control what happens in the marketplace,” Ross says. “So many people say to me, ‘Well, I’m just one person, and where I buy a steak doesn’t make a different.’ But if people keep saying that, it will always be true.”