Although it is too rarely included in discussions of social justice, food and food justice are both fundamental to almost every other political issue, as well as progress as a whole. LMU’s food justice week (November 4-8), hosted by my own service organization, Sursum Corda, was an essential first step in creating a school-wide discussion about where our food comes from and the impact it has on the environment.
One important component of this year’s event is the fact that for the first time, Sursum Corda changed the focus of its awareness week from hunger awareness to food justice. This change is one that was much anticipated by Sursum Corda members, since many agreed that most students are 'aware' of hunger and that hunger awareness does not cover the complexity of food-oriented social justice. Instead, food justice is an overarching term that conveys the importance of creating tangible change in the institutions that shape our food system.
To highlight this shift in focus, Sursum organized “Eat it Up: A Panel Discussion on Food Waste,” which featured multiple prominent food justice advocates from the L.A. area and introduced students to the multi-faceted issue of food waste.
Among the most discussed themes, and likely the most pressing in today’s society, was the connection between food waste and climate change. The fact that 40% of food in the U.S. and 33% globally goes to waste is tragic in terms of resource efficiency, and it becomes even more concerning when we realize that the methane gas released from rotting food in landfills is 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, according to Forbes.
One strategy to address this issue is to create awareness about it. As panelist and documentary filmmaker Oliver English candidly expressed, “It took me 26 years of my life to start asking where my food came from.” English grew up in the restaurant industry and was still unaware of just how convoluted and problematic the current food system is. This demonstrates the need to fundamentally transform public awareness of the food that keeps all of us alive.
For English, the solution was to “set out to make a documentary to tell a holistic story about the ways in which food impacts our world and most of all to offer hope and inspiration for how people can contribute to a better food system.”
At the same time, the panel also offered a different perspective on the same issue by bringing in chef Michelle Lainez and local farmer in L.A., Sherry Mandell, who both provided insight on the food system from the producers’ point of view. As strong advocates of food reform, Lainez and Mandell explained the various techniques they use to be environmentally friendly. For instance, regenerative agriculture is an important practice that uses sustainable methods to return nutrients to the soil rather than depleting it. Furthermore, buying locally-sourced produce encourages small, local farms while also reducing the environmental cost of transporting food across the world.
Although these sustainable practices often result in slightly more expensive products, it is important for us, as consumers, to make an effort to support these types of practices since it is the only way to encourage the agriculture industry shift from a profit-driven scheme to one that is focused on sustainability and progress.
Another key component of the panel was dedicated to discussing what we as college students can do to help. English offered the following suggestions: “Go to farmer’s markets, buy one local ingredient a month, . . . reduce the food that you buy and compost it . . . reduce red meat consumption, plant something or grow something, . . . and the main thing: ask questions and speak up.” This last point is particularly important because it highlights the fact that student voices have a huge potential to raise awareness for an issue, and in turn, influence the policy change that is needed for the food system to be reformed on a national level.
All of these issues and more served as the motivation for food justice week and will hopefully result in tangible change both on campus and on a national scale. As Sursum Corda President Ryan Burke explained, “I think food justice week is a very important opportunity for the LMU community to stop and think about the food we are eating and everything that went into getting it to our plate.”
This is the opinion of Veronica Becker-Peral, sophomore film and television production, history, and computer science triple major from Pasadena, CA. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.