As a relative “foodie” and someone who tries to buy local, organic foods, I thought I knew a thing or two about the food production and food systems that shape the current day. However, a course I am taking this semester, Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM) 155: Sustenance and Sustainability: the Social and Political Ecology of Agro-Food Systems, has challenged me to delve deeper into issues of food production, food security, and food justice.
This course has motivated me to think more deeply about what constitutes “organic” and “sustainable,” both in definition and in practice. It has allowed me to learn much of the history that has led to the way that agricultural systems are run currently, as the agriculture sector has become industrialized and internationalized. It has enabled me to learn more about how agricultural workers along the food production line are treated, and what protections, or lack thereof, are available to them. And it has empowered me take what I have learned and apply it to the food I buy and eat and the life I live as a Cal student.
ESPM 155 has allowed us to learn about food and food systems in a very interactive way. Everyone in the class went on a field trip to the Gill Tract, a UC Berkeley-owned plot of land that is used as a community garden. There we got to clear rows, put down topsoil, and grow some vegetables, giving us a very small taste of life as an agricultural worker.
I have found that this class has increased relevance to my peers and me as Cal students, because Berkeley and the Bay Area overall are very food-conscious areas, full of people and movements that care deeply about how food is produced, where it comes from, and how those who are involved in the food-production process are treated. The Slow Food Movement, a movement away from fast food and towards local, organic food, has been championed and written about by Michael Pollan, who is a Berkeley professor in the School of Journalism.
Learning about where food comes from, how it is grown, and how the people involved in the production process are treated is something that has become very important to me, and taking this class has motivated me to explore more about food justice and production.