{ PERSON OF INTEREST }

FOOD FIGHT

Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach is a passionate advocate for healthy food

BY WENDY LEMLIN
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Activist, lawyer and entrepreneur Michelle Ciccarelli  Lerach is a woman of passions. She’s passionate about fighting injustice on numerous fronts, and she is especially passionate about the relationship between the food we eat, the farmers and artisans who produce it and making healthy, locally grown foods available for everyone. For her, it is all about what she calls “food justice.”

“Sustainable food and farm advocacy is at the epicenter of everything I care about,” explains the lawyer-turned-food activist. “The food we eat and how it is supplied impacts our well-being, the health of the environment and economic justice. Two out of three leading causes of death—especially in poorer communities—can be attributed to consuming processed products, as opposed to ‘real’ food. What we are eating is killing us, when it should be nourishing us. Healthy, good food should be universally available. Today, one percent of our population grows the food consumed by the other 99 percent, and the average age of farmers in our country is over 60. Those of us who care have to do something to support the individual family farms, or they will disappear entirely. And with them will go the higher-quality, sustainably grown, more flavorful crops and animal products they produce.”

To that end, Lerach founded the annual invitation-only Berry Good Night dinners in 2010 to encourage dialogue and connection between consumers, local chefs, farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food artisans. Held on the six-acre oceanfront La Jolla Farms estate on which she lives with her husband, William; her parents; several dogs; a herd of Nigerian dwarf dairy goats; an aviary filled with exotic birds; several prolific beehives; and a flock of egg-producing chickens, the event is one of the most sought-after invitations in the local foodie community. In 2015, the Berry Good Food Foundation (see page 18) grew out of the success of these dinners.

Bringing her passion for hyper-local and sustainable food to a personal level, Michelle has eschewed conventional landscaping and covered the grounds of her home with organically grown citrus and fruit trees, herb and vegetable gardens and berry bushes, which not only help feed Michelle, her family and her animals, but also attract bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators.

As a lawyer, Michelle served one of the nation’s largest plaintiff’s firms, representing shareholders, workers and consumers in a broad range of complex and class-action litigations for fraudulent business practices, human rights abuses and labor and employment violations. She received the Consumer Attorneys of California Women’s Law Caucus Outstanding Consumer Advocate Award in 2008 before leaving the practice to commit herself fully to social activism. Recently, she has reinvigorated her MCL Law Group practice to address a need for justice to be served in righting societal wrongs. Having spent time in Liberia working to set up a microfinance organization for women’s businesses and supporting two schools there, she is a consultant to the Liberian Ministry of Gender & Development. Additionally, Michelle is Vice Chair of the Board of the University of California Press Foundation, a member of the Advisory Board of the Women Peacemakers Program at the Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice and a member of the Advisory Board for Seats at the Table, a coordinated group of international NGOs focused on gender issues in West Africa.

“I guess you could call me a passionate workaholic,” Michelle acknowledges. “Sometimes I wish I could just chill, but there are so many fronts on which I can engage, and our food supply is at the epicenter of it all. I grew up ‘pretty darn poor’ and now I feel it is my duty to use my financial status to accomplish good, to give a voice to those who need it and to do my part in making sure that everyone has access to nutritional, sustainable food.”