Like many people, Raj can point to a lifetime of choices and exchanges that have led him to his current career, but he credits a childhood experience abroad—and how that made him feel—with opening his eyes to injustices happening elsewhere in the world.
“When I was five years old, my parents took me to India, the land of my ancestors. And we were in Bombay, in a car, in the monsoon,” he says. “We pulled up at a stoplight and the monsoon was hammering down on the roof of this tin car.” Outside the car was a girl who couldn’t have been more than 12, with a crying infant in her arms,
asking for money.
“I had never seen anything that quite reached me and touched me in that way. Soon, I was crying and howling, wondering, ‘Why is it that she’s outside and we’re inside? Why is she wet and we’re dry? Why is she hungry and we aren’t? Why do we have money and she does not?’”
For Raj, the moment unlocked a feeling that still fuels him today—this idea of, “That’s not fair and we can do something about it.” He’s adamant that he isn’t alone in this sentiment, and convinced we’ll all benefit “the more we try and reconnect with the universal human sense that there’s something wrong with the world and that we
can fix it.”
So instead of trying to forget that feeling—to unsee what unsettles you—try following Raj’s lead. Embrace the mantra of “That’s not fair” and use it as motivation to make things better.
Forget the fact you’re just one person.
Once you’ve found a cause or issue that moves you, Raj says the next feeling is usually one of paralysis, or “I can’t help this,” but, he contends, you can.
“The most debilitating thing you can think is, ‘I’m just one person, what can I do?’” Raj believes you are more powerful than that. He says the first step is realizing you have never been just one person. “You’ve always been a product of a family and of society. Although we may entertain ideas about an individual going off into the world and surviving by themselves, humans and primates don’t do well without language, without society, without kinship, without love.”
To help people reconcile what’s at stake, Raj co-opts a method from fellow food activist Brahm Ahmadi, who begins conversations about changing the food system with a simple request: Tell me about who you love.
When pressed on how well our loved ones are really doing, “a conversation about love becomes a conversation about big, societal issues,” Raj reveals. “And then the next step is: ‘You love your grandma—what won’t you do to make sure that her life is better?’ Then all of a sudden, you realize this is a social problem and I can do something about it. I’m not just one person; there are a lot of people in my situation.”
If you look at the movements that happen around the world, “it’s a lot of people saying ‘That’s not fair’ and getting together and realizing they can do something about it.”
When you’re trying to solve systemic problems, Raj knows there’s no magic bullet or single solution that will fix everything. Rather than feel overwhelmed, he offers sensible counsel on where to begin. “You start with who you love. You start in the community that matters to you, with the issues that matter to the people around you. And you start with people who are like-minded, making change happen so the ones you love can survive and thrive.”
Reframe the problem you’re trying to solve.
In the short time we spent with Raj, he proposed that climate change was not just about the weather, but a web of social systems ranging from international trade to colonialism.
Whether or not you agree with his statement isn’t the point—what’s important is the type of correlations he’s making. In Raj’s mind, if you don’t consider how vast the problem is you’re trying to solve before you propose a solution, you’re likely putting “a Band-Aid on a broken system.”
When it comes to his life’s work, Raj makes it abundantly clear that more food isn’t the answer to ending hunger. “We have enough food to feed everyone right now if we wanted to,” he laments. “But people are not able to buy the food that’s in front of them. I’m not sure it’s possible to say it plainer than that. The reason people go hungry is because of poverty.” Raj is persistent in his message that the global food crisis is “about power and about who is in charge and who gets to say who eats and who doesn’t,” stressing that the systems at hand are much more pervasive and entrenched than we think.
Chances are the issue you are looking to fix is far smaller and less complex than feeding the world. But that doesn’t minimize the clarity that can come from looking at the bigger picture. To inspire lasting change, maybe a wider purview is what’s needed.