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Planting a seed

Aug 2, 2019 | Featured, REAL|People

Zayaan Khan’s future-minded food philosophy is solidifying her reputation as a change maker

Pic credits: Ishay Govender-Ypma and Neo Baepi

Seed librarian and food activist Zayaan Khan brings a community-minded approach to her work. As the winner of the Woolworths Future Food award at the Food XX symposium in February, she’s one to watch on the sustainability and food-equity scene.

How did you come to be involved in food security and seed culture? 

I put it down to a curious mind and constant fascination. I started out studying landscaping and horticulture, and became encouraged by our heritage that is the biodiversity of the Cape and then curious about how people fit within that. I started working with various land and producer support organisations locally, regionally and internationally. I now work with academics, as well as producers, government, business, media and artists, and focus on food in a multi-disciplinary way to ensure that it speaks to everybody. I also started the Slow Food Youth Network in SA, to inspire people, but specifically young people, to work in food – in every aspect of the industry. 

 Can you talk a little about your work in food literacy? How did you find working with young children?

It’s allowed me to tackle larger-than-life issues while maintaining a deep sense of self-care. Through food literacy I can work seamlessly with children and see food beyond consumption and through art instead. Food literacy feels like storytelling, sharing experiences and seeing food as art – which is deeply healing but also fun for everyone involved.

 Talk a bit about what the future of food security looks like for you? Where do you see your work in 10/20/50 years’ time, for example? 

I think resilience will raise its head in an inspiring way. Food is not affordable, so what is the next step? Working towards the idea that producers can supply directly to their own communities and neighbourhoods. I’d like to have figured out transformative solutions, as so many are hidden in plain sight. In 10 years’ time I wish to have been part of creating a public Seed Biblioteek with a Seed School to connect to the global movement. 

Is there any advice you can give to the ‘average person’ wanting to do more for food security? What would you say to people wanting to do more for the matter?

Since we live in such an economic world we have to think economically. For example, a lot of the same produce we buy in supermarkets is the same quality that local vendors have. Buying from these smaller vendors is a direct economic connection – the money circulates within the everyday economy and doesn’t disappear into the deep pockets of Big Business. We have to stop assuming that food is lower quality because it is sold on the side of the road, we have research to prove otherwise now and this is a big step towards being able to engage, ask questions, and hold people accountable. 


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