Since her freshman year, Kerry Mullins has been involved with this student initiative before it was even called Anabel's Grocery. Now, a junior in Agricultural Science, she is co-director with Adam Shelepak, acting as a project manager of the student group, and as a point person between the Cornell Administration and Anabel's.
As co-director, most of her responsibilities are logistical in nature and revolve around overseeing the project as a whole. A large portion of her time is spent organizing the team, making sure everyone is hitting their goals, coordinating meetings, and helping with any personell issues.
Having been part of Anabel’s for more than two years, Kerry has worked with many team members, and considers everyone involved with Anabel's to be as vital as the mission itself.
“I love the community that’s been built around Anabel’s. I think that’s equally important as the store itself. The conversation we start about food insecurity and the community that we’ve built around this issue, from people on the Anabel’s team, to our advisory board, to CTA, to people in other groups,” she said.
All of Anabel's past and present dedicated individuals are crucial not only to the program's success, but also to Kerry's personal experience at Cornell. Matt Stefanko and Emma Johnston, the original founders who have since graduated, are some of her role models because of their unabated determination to make their idea a reality.
“Even when people said no, they would just keep doing the work, which was amazing to me… I learned a lot from them and I miss them. Anabel’s wouldn’t exist without them,” she explained.
While her job concentrates on the more administrative parts (or the "more boring parts" as she calls them) of Anabel's, some of her favorite experiences are volunteering during the meal kit builds – events which provide students with free food before each break. The days and hours prior to the event are often stressful and hectic, but being able to interact directly with so many students and see the tangible effects of her effort is what Kerry loves about Anabel's.
Before coming to Cornell, Kerry wanted to be a farmer. After becoming inspired by a video that spotlighted Jill Salatin, a well-known organic vegetable farmer from Virginia, Kerry got a summer job at Jackman Vineyards, which grows a variety of fruits and vegetables in Ithaca. The first day was rough – ten hours of strenuous manual labor in the heat. But her farming experience meant much more than sore muscles and painful sunburns. Being able to grow healthy foods with sustainable practices and sell them directly to consumers at a fair price was gratifying and rewarding.
“I felt like I was helping to provide people with healthy food that they could afford. And that’s still what I want to do, but just in a different way,” she said as a testament to the paramount role that farming played in sparking her interest in food systems.
As many students can relate, her first semester was rough. Having come to Cornell with the goal of being a future farmer, Kerry didn’t find her classes particularly engaging or relevant, and even considered dropping out at one point. But after switching some of her coursework towards philosophy and law during the second semester, her perspective changed. Now, she plans to be an environmental and agricultural lawyer that focuses on the regulations surrounding genetically modified crops.
One of her motivators for wanting to become a lawyer is her recognition of the multitude of opportunities she's been given at Cornell and in her life. In some ways, she considers it her responsibility to recognize and use her privileges to contribute to our food system in the best way she can.
During the organization's initial years when Stefanko and Johnston were in the process getting funding through Student Assembly, some members of Student Assembly at the time hadn’t believed food insecurity was a real issue on campus. While she doesn't personally consider herself food insecure, she recognizes that many of her peers don't have cars or the financial means to get groceries as easily as she is able to. Hearing that some SA members didn't recognize food insecurity was both an eye-opening and disappointing experience to Kerry.
“I think a lot of people lose sight of the inherent privileges you have from being white, being cisgender, being straight, being Christian, being wealthy or comparatively wealthy, being healthy, having a great family. Some many privileges have given you so many opportunities in life and it’s so important to recognize that not everyone has those privileges, and to be compassionate towards people haven’t been given the same hand in life. And when people lose sight of that, it can be really frustrating. And I definitely do that sometimes, too" she admitted.
Aside from the economic and physical accessibility dimensions though, there are cultural elements of food security that she also considers herself fortunate enough to have. Having been raised by parents who ate mostly vegetables, she grew up eating healthy and nutritious foods. One less mainstream food that her family regularly cooked was rutabaga, described by Kerry both as the 'unsung vegetable of the western world', as well as a something that looks like a disgusting moldy football. Despite rutabagas numerous health benefits (including being a rich source of antioxidants, protein, fiber, and vitamin C among many other things), many people simply aren’t familiar with this vegetable because they’ve never been exposed to it.
Apart from her love for this underrated vegetable, Kerry eats the same things for breakfast and lunch everyday (this is not exaggerated). Although she has described herself as a picky eater, her simple diet also demonstrates the affordability and convenience aspects of food security. At least part of the reason why her lunch always consists of a PB&J, two carrots, an apple and goldfish is because it’s easy to prepare and cheap to buy.
Kerry has also been a vegetarian for eight years. Although her initial motivator had been a YouTube video on animal rights violations, her commitment to vegetarianism has since expanded to reasons related to the meat industry’s environmental impacts and high-input requirements.
The fact that Anabel’s will be selling meat does not bother her on a moral level. During the store's conception, the topic of food options in general had been a major point of deliberation. In a perfect world, Anabel's would be able to embody every ideal – from being produced in an environmentally sustainable and socially ethical way, to being nutritionally complete, to being completely affordable.
But Kerry recognizes that some ideals are just not practical in current realities.
“The idea of Anabel’s is to combat food insecurity on-campus. That really means giving people the healthiest, lowest price option. And unfortunately, often the organic, or locally made or fair trade options are not the cheapest," Kerry explained. "While I think those products are important… the fact is that right now they’re often not the most affordable option.”
Listen to the full audio from the interview to hear more about about the history Anabel's, Kerry's super dry sense of humor, saltine goldfish, everything she hates about capitalism, how she would describe herself, and so much more!