By Jenni Falconer
The Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA) recently held its sixth annual conference at UC Santa Cruz, which highlighted the important role played by students in advocating for food justice and equity, and nutrition security. One of the highlights of the event was the presentation of a new music video by UC Santa Cruz student, David Robles, who revealed how farming and food systems can enable students to create community.
The film was part of the University’s Global Food Initiative, which takes place in 10 UC campuses and addresses issues like sustainability and nutrition security in a world in which the world population is expected to grow exponentially by 2025.
The catchy hip hop video contains a rap in which Robles espouses the importance of students being leaders and taking steps to change the status quo. Robles stresses the value of collaboration between students on their campuses and shared efforts on projects such as recycling, gardening, composting, etc.
Robles spoke of the importance of programs such as The Real Food Challenge, which promotes the purchase and consumption of local or community based, ecologically sound, human, fair food. Many universities are currently relying on the Real Food Calculator, which defines real food and sets high standards that all educational institutions should seek to uphold. In order for producers to be considered local and community based, for instance, they need to control all production, processing and distribution and they should be a privately traded or cooperatively owned business that grosses less than one per cent of the industry leader. To be considered fair, products but contain specific certifications or be single sourced products that can confer that employees involved in manufacturing them enjoy equal pay for equal work, a day of rest and overtime, seniority, etc. Products deemed ecologically sound and humane also need to meet strict standards and certifications. In the case of humane products, for instance, animals should be able to behave naturally in low-stress environments and not be administered hormones or medications which are not necessary for their natural development.
Robles’ video was one of five other videos from different UC campuses that focused on food systems and sustainability. UC Davis’ video was about plant breeding, while UC Berkeley students showed the workings of a sustainable grocery store which is completely run by students. The common subjects for all the works, was food – the extent to which food justice promotes not only fairer conditions for employees and animals, but also promotes healthier ways of eating which are beneficial to all human beings, especially those who may be lacking in nutrients owing to issues like eating disorders or specific lifestyle choices.
Another highlight of the event was the revelation of the link between technology and food justice and sustainability. Ellen Stone, an undergrad student at UC Santa Cruz and member of the UC Santa Cruz Food Systems Working Group, showed off a tracking system that is used to calculate the standard of foods purchased by UC Santa Cruz. The tool measures the extent to which products and manufacturers are human, fair, community based and environmentally sound. Stone noted that the food system needs greater transparency. Those who supply and sell food need to be more open about their approach to food sustainability and food justice, so that buyers can obtain all the information they need to make a good decision.
Student leadership was also discussed; as future leaders, it is vital that students begin taking initiatives and leading others if fairer, more sustainable food systems are to be built. Many of the students present at the event hope to take their interest in food justice further and some have already applied for apprenticeships in upcoming sustainable/ecological food programs.
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