After a successful career in journalism, Jeannine Guttman knew that she had new things to learn and to accomplish. She enrolled in the College’s MSFS program to follow her new passion: building sustainable food systems.
As a self-described military brat during the Vietnam War, she grew up quickly in the 1970s on Okinawa. The island was a U.S. military staging base for bombing operations against North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. Her father was a missile engineer in the U.S. Air Force. Among the military families and American servicemen deployed on Okinawa, there were no doubts about the necessity of the war.
“We also were led to believe that the country was behind us and that Americans fully supported the war effort,” she said. “All our news came from official government sources like the Stars and Stripes and Armed Forces Radio and Television Services.”
A Christmas gift subscription to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, sent to her family by her Ohio grandmother, gave Jeannine a new window on the world.
“I suddenly learned that Americans were not wholeheartedly supporting the war—in fact, the country was being ripped apart. There were demonstrations. There were flag burnings. It was so shocking to me. I began to understand the power of propaganda and how you could—if your ethics weren’t tied to transparency—mislead a whole lot of people.”
That epiphany led to her ambition to become a journalist. She discovered she was a good writer, and joined her high school newspaper on Okinawa. She later studied journalism at Kent State University, a few years after the 1970 Kent State shootings.
“I was a j‐school Watergate baby, coming of age during Vietnam, the Nixon years and the ensuing constitutional scandal. And who came to the rescue of the nation but two journalists, Woodward and Bernstein! I was part of a generation of idealistic young people who were passionate about journalism as a way to create positive change, to give voice to the voiceless and to empower voters and communities through objective news and information.”
Jeannine became a reporter with Gannett News Service, later working for USA Today covering politics in Indianapolis, Sacramento and the U.S. Congress. She wanted to join a family‐owned newspaper, and became editor and vice‐president of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. When the paper sold to the Blethen family of The Seattle Times, she learned more about the business side of newspapers and the core importance independent journalism. Still, newspaper circulations nationwide were fast declining as readers drifted toward the free Internet and digital news. With that erosion came the slow abandonment of long‐form and investigative journalism. The writing was on the wall: printed newspapers were no longer a growth industry and were being replaced by digital news platforms.
When Jeannine and her spouse, a Rutland native, decided to move to Vermont, it was an opportunity to reassess her life and career.
“I tried to figure out what could possibly replace the passion I felt for journalism, and for a very long while, I didn’t think that anything could,” she said.
Then she got caught up in the “slow food” movement, and realized Vermont was at the cutting edge of food systems thinking. Suffering from celiac for many years, she had done a lot of research on food labeling and gluten‐free diets. She wanted to write more about agricultural issues, especially food security and affordability, but realized her knowledge wasn’t deep enough.
“I knew I was missing a lot of nuance and history. How did our food system evolve to this point? Why are food corporations so dead‐set against transparent food labels? I realized I needed to earn a graduate degree and I looked at every graduate school in Vermont. And GMC called me right back. Philip (program founder Philip Ackerman‐Leist) spent more than an hour on the phone with me and gave me the names and phone numbers of students in the program that I could talk to. I told him I was a non‐traditional student, and he said, ‘All our students are non‐traditional.’ That made me feel right at home.”
Jeannine is now finishing up her first year in the MSFS program. She initially had doubts about going back to the classroom after some 40 years. But when she arrived at her first MSFS residency at GMC in February, she was welcomed with open arms by her new classmates.
“People were so awesome—they treated me the same as everyone else. The spirit was ‘everyone has a different background but we’re all here to learn from each other.’ It’s a real culture of ‘building up’ and not ‘tearing down.’”
Jeannine is still settling on what she’ll do with her new degree. She’s interested in forming a farm collective with her spouse and their neighbors on land they own in Rutland Town. She’d like to write about her new interests, perhaps as an educator or policy analyst. She already writes for her food blog, Vermont Foodies.
“I’ve learned that it’s never too late to reinvent your life,” she said. “People are very resilient. In fact, I feel very strongly that food systems sustainability was my true career calling all along—and that my 32 years of work in daily newspaper journalism was just in preparation for this main chapter of my life.”