Claire Burrus, rising senior at Trinity University and FPCSA summer intern

This is the first of many “perspectives” we intend to share on the blog. Written by Trinity University’s rising senior, Claire Burrus, this essay outlines her intentions and expectations for her summer internship with the FPCSA, as well as her reasoning for pursuing a career in environmental and social justice.

Growing up, I never truly understood where my food came from. I knew yogurt is from cow’s milk, but I knew absolutely nothing about the fermentation process, let alone where the cow lived, who milked her, or what her life was like. I remember sitting in the cart while grocery shopping with my mother and watching aisles and aisles of packaged products whizz by, a store bought chocolate chip cookie the only consolation for my boredom.

In high school, my brother and I would make late night trips down the street to buy cheap, greasy fast food. This is not to say that my parents didn’t encourage nutritious eating habits. In fact, my “granola” mother diligently bought organic, healthy foods and cooked meals for us every night. However, as a kid, all I wanted was to be “normal,” and as it turned out, healthy and organic food was not and is not “normal.” At the time, I didn’t have an appreciation for the foods I was provided with at home. And like most middle class urban youth, I took food for granted.

I didn’t begin to question my food system until college. The classes I took in the Environmental Studies department at Trinity University awoke me to the impact my eating choices have on the earth.  These eye-opening courses exposed me to the effect the animal agriculture industry has on the global climate, with livestock animals producing more than half of the world’s greenhouse gases (Goodland & Anhang, 2009). [Editor’s Note: This study has been disputed.] I read about the dangers posed by fertilizer and animal waste runoff, when nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus accumulate in high concentrations in waterways, threatening drinking water safety, plant and animal life, and the health of our oceans (The Mississippi River Collaborative). As I learned more and more about these omnipresent issues, it  became clear to me that I must first change my personal relationship with the food system and then guide my career to contribute to solutions to these pervasive environmental and food system inequities.

This summer, I am diving into this subject by serving as an intern for the Food Policy Council of San Antonio. During the next three months, I will be working closely with two of the five work groups that focus on strategic problems, the Healthy Corner Stores Work Group and the Farm to School Work Group. With Healthy Corner Stores, I will be assisting in the effort to enable access to healthy food options, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, available at specific convenience stores identified in food deserts. With Farm to Schools, I will be working to encourage healthy and sustainable food habits in children and the schools that shape them to be the adults they will become. Through my work this summer with the Food Policy Council, I will be taking steps to connect others to their food and help them understand the importance of a sustainable, just, and equitable food system.

Sustainability–a word more and more frequently heard in daily discussions–is defined as a pattern of behavior that can be continued over an extended period of time without exhausting the ecological resources needed to perform the behavior. People tend to support sustainability efforts because they want future human generations to enjoy the same resources and goods as we have.

Sadly, this vision of resource equality is not playing out, as so many alarming statistics indicate. For example, Texas has the second highest food insecurity rate in the United States, coming in at 25.6%, preceded only by California (Feeding America, 2014). For Bexar county, the child food insecurity rate is 23.4%. Nationally, the average rate for child food insecurity — children living in households unable to adequately provide the right quantity and quality of food to their families — is significantly lower at 20.9% (Feeding America, 2014). The 2016 Map the Meal report by Feeding America estimates that 1 in 7 Americans struggle to feed themselves. This problem is pervasive, and it is happening right here in our own community. When I was presented the opportunity to work with the Food Policy Council of San Antonio, I knew this was an experience that could set the course for the rest of my environmental and social justice career.

The Food Policy Council of San Antonio serves as a public forum for community members to come together and solve the city’s broken food system. For example, the Farm to School Work Group supports the initiatives of garden-based learning, school gardens, and the procurement and use of local ingredients for school provided meals. There is power in teaching children how a seed becomes a carrot, that carrots are delicious, good for them, and that anyone can grow their own food at home. The Healthy Corner Stores Work Group pushes policies that provide families with access to foods at neighborhood convenience stores because the nearest grocery store is simply too far to walk to.

Additionally, the Food Policy Council serves as a vehicle to expand and spread vital information between organizations working toward food justice in San Antonio. The hands on learning of this work and the connections I make through this summer internship will provide me with the opportunity to become a part of this community network geared toward promoting a sustainable and healthy future for our city, and to contribute to the fight for food justice for all.

And along the way, I hope to get my hands dirty harvesting some fresh foods grown by local farmers and gardeners. Sweet and juicy summer tomatoes are my favorite and I can’t wait to take a big bite.