7 Questions on Advocacy Training with Katherine Miller

by Elizabeth Rowe (She/Her)

Advocacy training - Katherine Miller

Advocacy Training Interview - with Katherine Miller 

Katherine Miller is the author of At the Table: The Chef's Guide to Advocacy. She is involved in advocacy training and strategist. She has previously served as the VP of Impact at the James Beard Foundation where she worked with leaders in the food system to create new and innovative programs to help address gender equity, sustainability, food waste, and child nutrition. She is a current Distinguished Fellow at GWU’s School of Media and Public Affairs, and is a professional alum of the LA Times, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the U.N. Foundation. This week, we asked Katherine 7 questions about her career and experience. 

You just came out with your first book, At the Table: The Chef’s Guide to Advocacy, congrats! How did that come about? 
The Chef’s Guide to Advocacy is really the culmination of about 10 years of work. I have been working, first as a consultant, and then as the first Vice President of Impact, with the James Beard Foundation. I have a three decade career working with advocates, training, and communications, and I started working with chefs in 2012. And so this book is really bringing together my experiences as a trainer and communicator, the chef’s stories about how they get involved, and then also some tips and tools for anybody else. The audience is really chefs and culinary professionals, but my hope is that the framework I developed to help people become more effective communicators and more effective policy advocates, transcends the food space. 

What was the experience of working with and training chefs to be advocates like?
Training chefs is really interesting, right? We think about kitchens as these places that are filled with hot oil and yelling people and sharp knives – super dynamic and dangerous. So when I was first approached by the James Beard Foundation to develop this training for chefs, I thought, that’s insane. They’re not going to be effective translators on Capitol Hill or in policy. What I found though, is the most dedicated, focused, thoughtful, and effective storytellers that I’ve probably ever worked with throughout the entire course of my career. They deal with products every day. They solve crises every day, several times a day. They translate products to the plate for the consumer to make us all believe and appreciate how delicious something is. They create trends and they have vast networks, whether it’s their employees, their fans, their distributors, they pull from. I love working with chefs. I just think they’re the most thoughtful, effective storytellers I’ve worked with in a really long time. It is also a little like herding cats. Chefs and kitchens are incredibly dynamic, incredibly active. Restaurants are completely stress-filled environments, and so getting them to focus and getting them to hone their stories in a way that was really effective and compelling was part of the challenge. But every chef likes a good mise en place. So we created a mise en place for advocacy for them. 

What issues are they taking on? If you’re training folks to have that mise en place toolbox of advocacy training, what kinds of ways are they applying it? 
The mise en place for chefs is what’s in place for everyone if they want to become effective policy advocates. We all have friends and networks, we all have platforms and communities to reach. We all have day-to-day interactions or beliefs about an issue we care about. We all have an emotional attachment to the things we want to support. That is there for all of us. One of the things I recognized very early on with the chef community is that they’re not monolithic. They’re not a voting bloc that all moves in the same direction. And so we came up with a framework that each one of them could use to advance the issue that was most personal to them, the thing that they most cared about. Figuring out how to effectively reach and mobilize your supporters, that was a big piece. And chefs have that. That advocacy frame we developed, they had to be able to take the issue they cared most about, that they were going to be most passionate about, that they were then going to be able to effectively reach their different networks with, was almost issue-agnostic. So I developed an advocacy training framework, and Alex Fisher helped me refine it, called “A is for Advocacy”. You can run this exercise about any issue you care about, whether it’s sustainable seafood or regenerative agriculture. I’d ask them, who’s our audience? And what are we asking them to do? 

What are some ways you can develop connections with legislators or other politicians? 
We have to actually see politicians as people. We’re in a really heightened space of political discourse and part of our job as advocates is to create the conditions for them by which a policy shift or a policy stance makes sense. It first helps to center the audience we’re talking to. It can help to tell a personal story about how this issue impacts us. It’s key to ask questions and be an active listener. It’s not our job to debate or “change someone’s mind” immediately – it’s about creating the conversation, the relationship, and the conditions by which change makes sense to them. My job as an advocate is to be an active listener, center the audience, tell a compelling story, and create conditions in which they’re open to change. 

If someone wanted to make change in their community, how could they get started? 
Just get started! Often we get started on being an advocate by voting – so register to vote. But if it’s a cause that you’re really passionate about, spend a lot of time getting up to speed on the issues, follow the organizations focused on them, figure out which politicians are aligned with your take on that issue. Then find ways to be an advocate – use your voice by exercising your dollars, for example, or be an advocate by publicly proclaiming your opinion, whether it’s a post on your Instagram or writing an op-ed to the New York Times. Or become a professional advocate yourself by being that public voice. You can do this by being more closely aligned with the organizations that you care about, that are focused on the issues that you care about. Honing your focus can mean so much more than spreading your resources or time. So to sum up: one: register to vote. Two: hone your focus. Three: get informed on those issues and figure out different ways to use your voice and advocate for the cause that you care most about. 

How long did it take to write your book on advocacy? How difficult was it? 
The publishing process is completely opaque – I was lucky to have The Chef’s Guide to Advocacy published by Island Press, which is a nonprofit publisher, so there are different constraints than others. It was a three year process from day one to the end. It’s pretty hard! People are right, anyone who tells you to write every day is absolutely correct. It’s hard to find that focus even with something you know really well. I think one of the things that was interesting for me was that this is really a codification of the work I had done and lived, so I found it really difficult to succinctly tell the stories that I love so much and could talk about for hours. Really honing the message for the audience was key. My publisher kept asking me, who’s your audience? Who are you writing this book for? What do you want them to do? 

Do you have a favorite book, podcast, or movie on advocacy that inspired you around this book? 
That’s such a great question! I read a number of books on communications. Escape from the Ivory Tower, which is about scientific communication, and communicating succinctly relating to scientific issues, I found to be very similar to food. I’m a big fan of Alicia Kennedy from a food perspective. She’s a writer, podcaster, blogger – a different and refreshing voice within the food world. Her take on things was really helpful. 

Do you have a favorite bite of food in Washington, D.C.? 
I will drive across town in D.C. for the stuffed croissant from Yellow by Chef Michael Rafidi. It’s the perfect bite. I love a good croissant. It’s savory, crispy and crunchy. Michael is amazing because like all good chefs, he serves up a healthy dose of politics with every bite he offers, so he’s well known in the community for combining chefs from Syrian and Lebanese and Israeli and Palestinian backgrounds to cook together and form community. 
How can folks get a hold of you and buy the book?

The book At the Table: The Chef’s Guide to Advocacy is out from Island Press. You can buy it through Island Press or your favorite independent bookseller here in Washington, D.C., like from Bold Fork Books in Mount Pleasant – I encourage people to buy through independent booksellers!

My Instagram, Twitter, and Threads handle is Table81 and my website is table81.com. So come and find me! 

Learn more - sign up for TCW's Advocacy Training. 

Have questions? Drop us a note!