Citizen Activist

by Gen Anderson '91

Gen Anderson

When I graduated from Scripps in 1991, my focus was on the theater. Naturally, I moved to New York and threw myself into the scene. It was a lot of fun, and the part-time nature of working in theater allowed me the time to publish a magazine called Health Map Manhattan, a reader’s guide to living healthy in the City. I loved my work in theater, but I LOVED my work on the Health Map—I attended demonstrations by chefs, explored a vibrant vegetarian food scene, and helped people make better choices. Later, fate brought me to live in Thailand. Life in Thailand couldn’t be more different from Manhattan—I traveled from island to island on a 12-foot inflatable Zodiac boat, absorbing the culture. I spent time in people’s kitchens, learning cooking techniques, and gaining a truly new perspective on the world.

I returned to Los Angeles and the world of the film industry. I had the happy opportunity to work in front of and behind the camera on all sorts of productions. Still, something kept driving me to travel for months at a time, volunteering for conservation organizations like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the Corcovado Foundation of Costa Rica. I took the cooking skills I’d learned in New York and Thailand and experimented in my kitchen, cutting the unhealthy fats, salts, and sugars from my favorite dishes, substituting organic and sustainable ingredients. One thing led to another, and soon I was bringing treats to film sets, and cooking healthy meals for Hollywood clients.

Everything came together in 2009, when I created my own cooking show, Gen’s Guiltless Gourmet. The ideas behind the show are healthy eating, and, equally important, sustainable eating. We focus on highlighting organic ingredients and making sustainable choices, like reducing consumption of resourceintensive foods like beef and dairy. The show was a shift for me. After years of working in the film and television industry, I had a show of my own, and my passion for health and sustainability was no longer just a side project—it was the focus of my life. A turning point in my work as an activist came in 2011. The Obama Administration was going to rubber-stamp the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, running through 1,600 miles of Midwestern farmland. That was a moment I knew I had to speak up, or forever hold my peace. Bill McKibben and 350.org were planning an act of civil disobedience at the White House. So, I got on a plane and flew to Washington, D.C. Two days later, I was arrested in front of the White House, and it was one of the proudest, most profound, moments of my life.

Less than a month later, President Obama chose to stall the approval of the Keystone pipeline pending further environmental review. In one afternoon, I had been a part of affecting that decision. That realization made me appreciate my power as a citizen activist.

Looking at my life as a whole, it seems obvious: the times I was most passionate, most engaged, and most fulfilled were when I knew the work I was doing directly affected the world we live in. I stepped up my activism: I got more involved with the Sierra Club. I trained to be a presenter with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. Last month, I attended the Greenpeace Action Camp, where I trained to pilot Zodiac boats—the boats that get between whales and whaling ships—the same boats I practically lived on in Thailand.

In addition to Gen’s Guiltless Gourmet, I’m now in development with PBS for a show called Change the Menu. I’ve formed Change the Menu as a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about how their food choices have a longrange effect on their health and the environment. Just as a weekend in D.C. for me affected national policy, I encourage consumers to make small changes in their buying behaviors to change corporate food policy.

It took me nearly 20 years to make my passion the main focus of my life. So, if you graduated from Scripps this year, don’t be discouraged if it takes you until 2033 to find your true calling. Between now and then, explore your passion in your free time, on your vacations, your weekends. Because I always devoted myself at least part time to what inspired me, I now get to work with great organizations, get to “change the menu,” and, hopefully, to change the world.

 

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