Book Review: No Table Too Small

Book by Laura Titzer
Review by Claire Morenon, CISA Communications Manager

At CISA, we’ve been grappling how race, inequality, and diversity intersect with the work that we do to support local farmers and engage our local community in building a strong local food system. We know that large-scale social inequities, especially those related to race, impact who owns businesses, who does what kinds of food-related jobs, and who has access to enough food or the foods of their choice. These inequities exist alongside the challenges that farm owners in our region face as they work to stay afloat in a global food system.

CISA’s vision is a of local food system that is resilient and vibrant, and that meets the needs of everyone within it. We’ve been talking internally and with partners about the ways that CISA’s local food and farm-focused work must include work around equity and fairness, and a wider range of voices and participants, in order to realize this vision.

Enter No Table Too Small: Engaging in the Art and Attitude of Social Change, a new book by Laura Titzer. This book is written from the perspective of, and geared towards an audience of, people who are working directly in the food movement, who the author identifies as “activists, advocates, and change agents working at nonprofits, government agencies, community organizations, and for-profits.”

More than a reflection on inclusion in the food system itself, this book is a how-to manual for activists and advocates looking to work with all stakeholders, especially those who are usually left out of the conversation, to change the food system. It focuses on how to hold effective conversations and meetings, collaborate on projects, shift leadership structures, and develop a systems perspective around the work.

The book is broken into six sections, each of which explores a “capability” that Titzer posits are central to building the trust, buy-in, and efficacy of authentic working relationships, without which effective food systems change can’t happen. These capabilities are interwoven and they build on each other. They are: holding space, communications, reflection in action, cocreation, leadership, and systems thinking.

For me, the section on leadership held special interest. In the synopsis at the end of the chapter, Titzer writes, “Deep leadership begins by defining the problem and asking the right questions.” She argues that our culture’s “expert-driven” model, where we look to the top of hierarchies and established experts for guidance on what and how to change, leaves most people feeling unable to make change and silences valuable voices. The chapter lays out an alternative vision of leadership, which is based on sharing power and expertise, making space for varied perspectives, and working towards stabilization after challenging change. In this model, we can all learn to step into leadership.

For readers interested in a detailed primer on shifting the ways that the current food movement is making change, No Table Too Small offers a valuable perspective and concrete steps for beginning that shift. Much of the book felt relevant to me as a CISA staffer and to the conversations we’ve been having about equity and justice. For readers with a passing interest in local food, this book may feel too “insider baseball.”

Find more about Laura Titzer and No Table Too Small here.

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