Interest in food and equitable food systems has been bubbling up for a while among graduate students at Yale. Enter Tagan Engel, the newest Resident Fellow at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment (CBEY). Engel has over 25 years of experience in reshaping local and regional food systems, developing digital communications, inspiring community engagement and innovating beyond traditional business models. And she’s excited to share what she’s learned with Yale students who are looking at pathways where people, food, justice, business, and the environment intersect.
“Tagan brings a unique set of expertise, experience and connections to our work at the CBEY. Her areas of work in food are particularly critical at this time due to the rising student interest and immediate need for more support at the Center,” says Stuart DeCew, Executive Director of CBEY.
DeCew continues, “Tagan is a recognized and respected regional and national leader on food systems but more importantly, someone who has a deep love, profound respect and critical understanding of food systems and the community of New Haven.”
For nearly 10 years, Engel was a chef and food entrepreneur in New York City and Boston where she learned the ins and outs of the industry that went far beyond farm-to-table cooking and into workers’ rights, food procurement, sustainability in practice, and power dynamics in kitchens. Over the course of her career in food, she also developed an interest in and understanding of cooperative business models.
When she and her young family were ready to come back to her hometown of New Haven, CT in 2006, Engel was intentional about the next phase of her work. She merged her love of food and her dedication to social justice and began her path centering on community-based food justice in New Haven. Her leadership in the Elm City can be felt through her service on the New Haven Food Policy Council, where she helped build a diverse coalition of community food experts, spearheaded the creation of the first New Haven food policy plan and the Food Systems Policy Director position in City government. She also developed and managed a wide number of community-driven programs on food access, urban agriculture, farm-to-institution, and entrepreneurship during her time as the Community Food Systems Coordinator at CitySeed.
Through these roles, Engel learned the value of placing relationship building at the center of every experience, and the importance of hearing stories directly from people affected by injustices. She believes that these are foundational to effectively address the harms of systemic racism and the exploitation of capitalism.
Her desire to uplift inspirational stories of food, radical love, antiracism, and social justice led her to create her podcast The Table Underground. Guests share their stories and experiences in their own voices, using food as an entry point into deeper issues such as reparations, undoing white supremacy, honoring cultural heritage, environmental justice and regenerative agriculture.
Within the Yale community, Engel has centered her work on sustainability and worker-led/cooperative models in food entrepreneurship with Tsai CITY, the Yale Landscape Lab, and the New Haven-based Collab. As a Resident Fellow at CBEY, Engel is launching the new discussion group Power & Race in Community, Business, and the Environment. Here, graduate students will dig into real-world challenges and examples of liberatory practices in businesses, organizations, and communities.
“I am excited for the opportunity this fellowship provides to create a platform for community experts from New Haven and beyond, to prioritize their stories, challenges, and joys as core to understanding the solutions needed within food systems, environmental justice, and equitable businesses,” says Engel. “Through the discussion series and my office hours, I also hope to create a space for students to dig into cross sector conversations and outside of mainstream thinking, to inspire more active listening and a consciousness of their own power and privilege, whatever their background, and how they choose to use it in work and life. For me, as a white person engaged in social justice work, this is crucial.”
You can read more about Tagan Engel and connect with her for office hours or a remote coffee chat here.