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Students take a bite into food justice

Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011

The concept of environmental justice is still an issue that is unclear to a majority of people, even those who label themselves environmentalists. Juniors Laughlin Barker and Tim Carlson spearhead a movement for those who are interested in the social aspect of environmentalism. Bronco Leaders of Environmental Justice Investigating Truth (B-LEJIT), created two years ago, hopes to tackle some important issues around campus and in the Santa Clara community this year.

Through this club, Barker and Carlson want to expand the concept of what being an environmentalist means. “There’s more to environmental problems than just putting solar panels on a roof somewhere,” Barker said. Reducing carbon emissions, cleaning up toxic sites and removing pollution from oceans are all commendable components of the environmental movement, but environmental justice moves a step further to analyze the social aspects of environmental impacts.

Environmental justice assures everyone has equal right to a clean and healthy environment, a simple concept that in reality is very difficult to fulfill. Barker and Carlson were both attracted to the social issues pertaining to the environment and decided to take the reigns of the burgeoning B-LEJIT.

“People stereotype environmentalism,” Carlson said. “Environmental justice incorporates social justice and racial justice into environmentalism.”

Working on an organic farm in central Illinois helped cultivate Carlson’s initial environmental interest into an active role in championing farm workers’ rights. At Santa Clara Carlson is also an active member of the Labor Action Committee (LAC). Recently LAC partnered with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization dedicated to the workers of Immokalee, FL, a town where the majority of the America's tomatoes come from. Immokalee is home to some of the worst wages in the country, and a place where over a half dozen slavery cases are centered. LAC and CIW petitioned grocery chain Trader Joe’s to sign an agreement with CIW to improve conditions and wages in the Immokalee area, an agreement that multiple fast-food and supermarket chains had already signed.

Barker also has experience working with multiple socially conscious organizations; however, in his work he saw environmental justice issues arise with no notice, recognition, or action to address them. Before college, Barker took a year off to work at a Tanzanian orphanage. His experience offered an example on how environmental issues can have direct social impacts and vice versa.

Bringing their past experiences into play, Barker and Carlson want to bring B-LEJIT’s focus onto food justice issues. Carlson is interested in the coffee market and fair trade, and Barker is concentrated on sustainable urban farming. Food justice ties in with many Food and Agribusiness Institute (FAI) events happening this quarter, of which B-LEJIT is a proud co-sponsor.

While these food justice issues are the club's current focus, Barker and Carlson have some grand plans for the club’s lasting legacy, specifically increasing interest and awareness of environmental injustices in the campus community.

“We really want to work on increasing membership base and a lot more collaboration with groups on campus, especially those who work on issues close to environmental justice,” Carlson said.

The main mission of B-LEJIT correlates nicely with the core ideas of Santa Clara University. In President Father Engh’s inaugural speech, he focused on the importance of sustainability and social justice.

“At the end of the day [environmental justice] is an ethical issue to some degree,” Barker said. “The Jesuits are  very engaged in social justice issues and I think the conversation about environmental justice at SCU will only broaden.”

 -Molly Kagel, '11, Sustainability Intern 

Tags: Education and Research, Environmental Justice, Food, Program Highlights, Student Life



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