WHYY's This I Believe Home

WHYY FM Schedule

Listen Live!

Back to WHYY FM

Judy Wicks

May 29, 2009

In Philadelphia, the White Dog Cafe is more than a restaurant, it's literally an institution centered not only on food but on a philosophy of food. It's housed in a whimsical space decorated with plenty of drawings and paintings of ... what else?... dogs. Since she founded the White Dog Cafe 26 years ago, Wicks has been at the forefront of the movement to use local foods to support a sustainable business model. It all started to come together in her mind, Wicks says after spending some time in a remote Alaskan village.

Life is interconnected. We are all spiritually and environmentally connected to each other, to other species, and to all of life on planet Earth. "Man did not weave the web of life," Chief Seattle wisely said. "He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

As a young adult, I lived a year in a remote Alaskan Eskimo village where the worldview was one of interconnection. Life among the Eskimos was based on cooperation and sharing, rather than competition and accumulation. Witnessing this remarkable culture inspired me to envision a new economy in my own society - one based not on domination of nature and others, but on partnership, not on exploitation, but on caring relationships.

Today, I see life on Earth threatened by an economic system driven by greed and indifference. We are destroying the web of life - using up more natural resources than can be restored and poisoning our soil, water and air. As a businesswoman and restaurateur, my own transformation toward building a new economy came with the realization that to protect the world I cared about, I had to shift toward the mentality of cooperation and sharing I had experienced in the Eskimo village.

This change began when I learned about the unspeakable cruelty in the factory farming of pigs, as well as the danger to the natural environment and public health brought on by keeping large numbers of animals in close confinement. So my restaurant began to purchase from farmers who raised pigs naturally out on pasture with fresh air and sunshine. Eventually, all our meat and poultry, and much of the fruits and vegetables in season, came from local family farms that use humane and sustainable agricultural practices.

At first, I viewed buying from local farms as our market niche, a way to stand out among competitors. But I soon came to realize that having good practices in my own company was not enough. I needed to share my knowledge, as well as profits, to help other businesses buy locally. By working together, we can build a whole economy based on these values to produce our basic needs locally. After all, there is no such thing as one sustainable business or household. We can only be part of a sustainable system, one we must build together.

Looking back on it, Eskimos were the happiest people I have ever met. I believe their happiness came from an understanding of their place in the web of life - of belonging to the world - and taking great delight in simply being alive on this beautiful planet. Self-worth was not connected to material wealth. Security and happiness came not from money and possessions, but from community.

Today, I'm spreading the word about the importance of building sustainable local economies. When we buy and invest locally in businesses that share our values, we can build an economy that reflects life's interconnection. By reconnecting to place, with each other and with other species, I believe we can find greater happiness and experience the collective joy of working toward a shared vision for a healthy planet and vibrant community life.