Environmental justice meets the food we eat

 

Beef, what a relief.
When will this poisonous product cease?

These are some of the lyrics of the first stanza to a rap song called “Beef,” by Boogie Down Productions in 1990 — a song that inspired Bryant Terry, eco-chef, author and food justice activist based in Oakland, to promote healthy and affordable food choices for all, regardless of income, geography or race.

Terry visited Stanford on Jan. 31 to lead a workshop on cooking and food justice. His seminar was the final event of Environmental Justice (EJ) Week, a week of events dedicated to educating and raising awareness of the EJ movement. This week-long series, during the last week of January, was organized by an EJ subgroup of Students for Sustainable Stanford, a group interested in the connection between human-rights issues and environmentalism. The goal of the movement is to more evenly distribute environmental burdens, like suffering from air and water pollution due to location near an industrial or waste disposal plant, and benefits, like adequate public transportation.

The environmental justice movement emerged in the 1980s, calling for fair development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies, regardless of race or income. Generally, the communities most affected by environmental issues are high-poverty and racial minorities. These communities account for 20 percent of human health impacts from industrial toxic air releases, mostly due to poor geographic location and the inability to raise voices against the large corporate polluters. Fortunately, their voices are being heard and actions implemented at universities around the country.

For example, student activist groups at Stanford partnered together to raise awareness of these issues, and to strengthen ties between disparate groups that share a common aim to address institutional discrimination.

Food justice, part of environmental justice, focuses on ensuring equitable benefits and risks of how food is grown, processed, transported, distributed and consumed. In our modern world of highly industrialized food systems, environmental food justice activists, like Terry or Jenai Longstaff — an EJ Group Organizer and Stanford undergraduate — address the increasing disconnect between people and their food.

“We hope the EJ Week is not the end of this conversation of how we raise awareness,” said Maria Doerr, another EJ Group Organizer and Stanford undergraduate. “Because we had multiple events with such diverse groups, we can encourage them to continue to collaborate and continue the dialogue on environmental justice issues.”