Freshmen Take Action for Food Justice
5 Ways Students Are Connecting with This Year’s Common Theme
Over the summer, the Class of 2020 read Where Am I Eating? by Kelsey Timmerman, a book that investigates the production and ethical implications of common foods like coffee, bananas and chocolate. The book was the first assignment connected to this year’s Common Theme of Food Justice — but it’s not all freshmen have on their plate. Throughout the year, they’ll explore Food Justice by listening to speakers, participating in activism, and even traveling abroad. Here are a few of the highlights:
On Oct. 3, every freshman will get to hear Timmerman speak when he visits campus. Timmerman will also visit a section of Freshman Studies. “When you get 900 freshmen pouring into the RCC, it’s like a rock concert of ideas,” says Adjunct Professor of University Studies Mary Reilly, who’s teaching the book this semester in her writing class. “It really stirs in the students a sense of social justice, and the feeling that they can do something to address the issue.”
Food justice in black communities is far more complex than “eating healthy to prevent obesity.” It involves food access, gentrification, environmental injustice and the impact of chronic stress — as well as rich and resilient traditions. On Nov. 16, the cofounders of Food for Black Thought, an Austin-based research and activist group, will visit campus to show their Austin documentary, East Side Food Stories, and lead a discussion about how race and socioeconomic status affect food systems in Austin.
Hilltoppers who want a hands-on experience with food justice will visit Urban Roots, a 3.5-acre farm in East Austin that donates 60 percent of its harvest to food banks and shelters. The bulk of the work in the field, and at the farmers’ market where the rest of the produce is sold, is done by Austin teenagers. Several trips throughout the semester will let students tour the farm and try their hand at farm labor.
In the summer of 1966, farmworkers in the Rio Grande Valley went on strike during the melon harvest and marched more than 400 miles to the Texas State Capitol to demand better working conditions and a minimum wage of $1.25 per hour. The journey took two months, and the marchers spent the last night on the St. Edward’s campus before walking the last 4 miles to the capitol.
On Sept. 11, St. Edward’s marked the 50th anniversary of the march with the dedication of a commemorative plaque in the Ragsdale Center. Afterward, students retraced the original marchers’ steps to the capitol. To prepare students for the anniversary events, the Center for Ethics and Leadership hosted a panel discussion featuring Brother Richard Daly, CSC; Austin lawyer Jim Harrington, who defended Cesar Chavez and other activists in court; and journalist Phil Oakley, who shared audio clips of his interview with Chavez and donated his color photographs of the event to the university archive.
Freshmen who want to continue their investigation of food justice on a deeper level can take either a food-focused literature or history class. At the end of the semester, both classes will travel to Costa Rica, where they will visit banana plantations and Earth University, a San Jose sustainable agriculture college — two places Timmerman describes in Where Am I Eating? Although the trip will be a little less than two weeks long, the students will have spent the whole semester preparing for it. “It gives a deep study abroad experience even though it’s for a relatively short time,” Corey Lock, associate professor of University Studies, says. “The end of your freshman year is a great time to have a shorter trip and start thinking about these global conversations.”
By Robyn Ross