As a kid, I remember being frustrated when I wasn’t able to accomplish things right away. I think back to when I was trying to achieve a pullover on the bars in beginning-level gymnastics. I wanted so badly to successfully accomplish the skill, but for so long, I wasn’t ready. My parents told me over and over again, “Keep working at it! The more you practice, the stronger you’ll become. Then, one day you will try it again, and you’ll find you made it over the bar. You’ll be doing pullovers all the time after that.”
I was reminded of this again yesterday during my yoga class. My teacher opened up the class with a quote by B.K.S. Iyengar. It goes, “Practice is a dedicated, unswerving, constant, and vigilant search into a chosen subject pursued against all odds in the face of repeated failures, for indefinitely long periods of time.”
This type of work takes practice. It takes dedication, dirty fingernails, difficult conversations, and spilling egg bakes all over the oven. When you are trying to create healthier food systems, change food preferences, influence educational practices, and organize communities, you are almost certainly going to encounter failures. Sometimes it feels like you are pursuing something against all the odds. Teachers don’t have time to add anything more to their schedules. There is no funding available for extra things. Processed food is cheaper and more convenient. Gardens are a thing of the past and have given way to Big Ag. There’s no way kids could actually like vegetables, right?
But then, one day, you realize things are a little different. You notice small or large changes in a student, or a teacher, or a parent. An upturned nose toward a stem of asparagus slowly becomes a small, brave bite, which slowly becomes a thoughtful nod, and maybe eventually even an excited thumbs up. Just as I tell students, sometimes it takes practice to eat vegetables and eventually love them.
As it turns out, I still like it when I can see the fruits of my labor pretty quickly. One day when I was a bit frustrated with the work I was doing in a particular school, someone reminded me that we are playing The Long Game with this food-systems-community-organizing-food-education work. It’s about practice. It’s about trying again and again… Building and strengthening the movements and connections until one day, small, almost unnoticeable changes begin to occur, which might lead to big, noticeable changes. I’m kind of impatient, so I can’t wait for that day. But, in the meantime, I’ll keep practicing.