This interview discusses food politics, environmental sustainability, and their relationship to broader social justice issues. Sophia Trinh, a public health student at the University of Washington and formerly of Bellevue College (a nearby community college in Washington State) discusses how changing the community relationship to the environment will make the connection between sustainable living and issues such as poverty, immigration, and health. From small individual actions to larger policy changes, Sophia speaks on ways in which we can find our own power to tackle issues that seem gigantic and to answer that often massive question: “Where do I begin?”
As[I]Am: Please describe how you got involved in food work and why it’s your passion. What have you done in the past and what are you doing now?
Sophia: It all started when I was very young because I had so many allergies… I would eat certain foods like wheat and dairy and I’d have breakouts, and that caused hives and more itching, and that in turn affected my eczema. So at a very young age, I was very aware of what I ate!
As awful as it was, that taught me something about my relationship with the food I ate and also the environment around me. That it does affect our health. And it might not affect everyone directly, but it affected me directly, so that’s how I began cultivating that ‘oh, what I eat in turn affects my health and because it affects my health, it affects the community I’m in!’ So that built the relationship between me understanding food and the environment; that’s what sparked my interest in being a conservationist.
When I was at [Waldorf, being exposed to farming, and then] Oxbow taking my art classes, and we also had a community garden where we learned how to grow seeds, it just made me more interested in how we could bring that back to our school. Why doesn’t every school have a farm or small garden where students are learning about photosynthesis and biology from where their food comes from? I feel like it should be integrated into our education system because it’s basic knowledge. Because it’s what we put inside our bodies! It’s just odd that we don’t know where stuff comes from, like our food, or we’re so detached from our food.
My preventative measure would probably be food. Kids are most of the time in school from kindergarten through 12th grade, and that would be the perfect place to begin integrating it within their cafeterias and within their classrooms. But if the parents are too busy to teach their kids about healthy eating — and so often the excuse is that the parents are too busy working, they don’t have time to teach their kids or cook for their children — so why not integrate it into our public education system?
Going to Bellevue College… I was feeling helpless… for a while, because it’s overwhelming. There [are] so many problems: there’re environmental problems, there’s world hunger, there’s poverty — I can’t even pay for my own tuition! Why am I going to dedicate my time to a larger cause? But I learned how to step back and figure out what was within my realm of control. And that’s when I ran for student government at Bellevue College.
As[I]Am: Why are food politics relevant to people of color and specifically Asian American folks? How are they tied into other issues that we deal with, such as health, labor, and all of that stuff.
Sophia: Maybe I wouldn’t consider myself a minority, but I learned a lot about students of color and I would consider myself a student of color and my parents are immigrants. And we’re not rich [laughs], so it’s another thing that I began to fight for which is the social justice aspect.