Assessing the Utility of Food Certifications in Advancing Environmental Justice

Written by Shashank Anand, Hezekiah Grayer II, Anna Jacobson, and Harrison Watson

Sustainability is the notion that we should consume with caution, as the Earth is a delicately balanced ecosystem with limited natural resources. Social justice generally aims to eliminate disparities and inequities between discrete demographics. These include inequalities between persons of different socioeconomic status, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Environmental justice (EJ) intersects both of these movements: EJ is the notion that specific ecological burdens of society should be shared equitably across communities. Historical trends suggest that as we expand, consume, pollute, and produce, the benefits and costs of industrialization are inequitably distributed. This inequality comes at the cost of poor health for those living in highly polluted areas. Inequitable distribution of pollutants has recently brought EJ to the center of political discourse due to its correlation with increased Covid-19 mortality and racially skewed disease outcomes

Unfair treatment of workers at farms and manufacturing plants is a prime example of an injustice that ethical spending can aim to rectify. The misuse of pesticides, low worker wages, poor living conditions for farmers, and child labor are all sources of social and environmental injustices in food production. Socially conscious purchasing could be key in fighting these injustices. Academic institutions, which often purchase food en masse to serve thousands of individuals, have a sizable impact on humanity’s social and environmental footprint. Institutions like Princeton thus have a practical interest in reducing their footprint and a deontological obligation to mitigate their negative societal impact. 

Potential local food purchasing power of fourteen Michigan colleges and universities (Source: Michigan Good Food Work Group Report Series)

In general, it is difficult to assess the relative social and EJ impact of discrete products due to the inherently unquantifiable nature of justice. Certifications like Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance attempt to assuage buyers’ concerns by identifying and establishing environmentally just organizations. Certifications like USDA Organic and the Non-GMO Project endorse products and operations from an environmental sustainability standpoint. 

CASE STUDIES

Rainforest Alliance (RA) is an international NGO that provides certifications in sustainable agriculture, forestry, and tourism. RA seeks to “protect forests… and forest communities.” For farmers, the certification process involves site audits that check for compliance with the Rainforest Alliance Standards for Sustainable Agriculture. Standards include child labor protections and worker protection against the use of harmful pesticides listed in the Sustainable Agriculture Network Prohibited Pesticide List. RA Standards address economic and gender disparities on farms through the use of an “assess-and-address” approach. Farms are responsible for setting the goals that will mitigate the effects of “child labor, forced labor, discrimination, and workplace harassment and violence”. RA Standards also enforce implementation of a “salary matrix tool” for the collection of comprehensive wage data and identification of wage gaps. 

Support from RA has historically proven impactful, most notably on certified cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest cocoa producer. A 2011 survey conducted by the Committee on Sustainability Assessment analyzed the impact of RA on the economic, environmental, and social dynamics of these cocoa farms. RA certification was shown to increase school attendance (noted as the percentage of children who have completed the appropriate number of grades for their age) by 392%, thereby reducing child labor; increase crop yields by 172%; and improve farm income by 356% compared to uncertified farms (see figures 4, 6, and 10 at this link). Despite these documented successes, there has been a history of exploitation of previous Standards on certified farms. In 2019, for example, pineapple farms in Costa Rica were cited employing undocumented workers and illegal agrochemicals despite RA restrictions. 

Fair Trade USA (FTU) is a certification that focuses on social and EJ much like RA does. FTU cites ideals in democratic and fair working conditions for its workers. FTU employs an Impact Management System (IMS) towards these ends; the IMS is used to assess the social and economic impact of growers’ practices. FTU is distinct from its well-known parent company, Fairtrade International: the two split in 2012 over a dispute about certified growers’ company size. 

FTU implements a price premium, ensuring that if the market value of a product falls, FTU products have a floor price on store shelves, thus ensuring workers earn some minimum wage. FTU also requires a small additional fee, the “Fair Trade Premium”, on top of the purchase price of the product. The premium is used to improve local infrastructure for the producers. How it is used is decided democratically by workers at the farm. In a poor economy, Fair Trade products are likely to be pricier than their uncertified counterparts. In a thriving economy with high demand, this difference will be negligible (see figure 1 at this link). A 2009 case study of coffee production in Nicaragua found that many Fair Trade coffee producers still had trouble finding places to sell their coffee. In times of high coffee prices, producers found that they reaped little financial benefit from the Fair Trade label. 

The Non-GMO Project (NGP) certifies distributors and farms whose procedures align with “standards consumers expect.” Certification is obtained after evaluation of the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in produced foods. GMO crops are often bred to be more resistant to drought or pests. This may lead them to outcompete local crops and flora. Combined with the potential unknown behavior of these nonnative crop variants and risk of gene flow, e.g. through cross-pollination, many communities want to keep excessive GMO cultivation out of their neighborhoods. NGP upholds the long-standing Non-GMO Standard, which outlines requirements for companies looking to sport the butterfly label. These standards necessitate greater coordination between cleaning and transference of products between storage facilities (termed “elevators”) as well as increased investments in process monitoring to account for the potential introduction of GMOs along the production process. NGP partners with third-party certification bodies (also known as technical administrators) that audit businesses and farms for compliance with all Non-GMO Standards. Application fees, as well as Non-GMO product premiums, contribute to the conservation of environmental health through the protection of genetic diversity in organic agriculture. 

USDA Organic was created by the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990, which mandated the USDA to develop federal-level regulations in the US for organic food. It was actualized in 2002, after 10 years of public debate, as a compulsory certification requiring producers and handlers with annual organic sales greater than $5,000 to discontinue the use of prohibited substances. To ensure the insulation of formed policies from special interest groups, OFPA also instituted the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that includes 15 volunteers representing the consumer, organic farmer/handler, retailer, scientist, and environmental conservationist. A two-thirds majority of NOSB is required to add a material in the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (NLAPS). Third-party certifying agents issue the product as organic after confirming that the producer or handler has discontinued the use of prohibited substances for three years. 

USDA Organic and a growing market for organic produce have resulted in high product premiums. Unfortunately, a booming market does not guarantee good wages, living standards, or fair treatment for farm labor. There are cases recorded where working conditions have worsened due to the heavy work and time demands of organic farming. Some new programs build on USDA Organic’s structure with additional focus on standards for animal welfare and worker fairness. Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) is an example of such a program. It is too early to determine whether these certification programs will be successful or will earn the trust of the market.

DISCUSSION 

Consumer activism flourishes with effective metrics on desired qualities (e.g., EJ) to inform conscientious purchasing. Certification efficacy for social and EJ depends on two main questions: on a policy level, how relevant are the certifications’ guidelines to the social and EJ movement? In practice, how successfully are rules enforced; are audits thorough, unbiased, and based on clear criteria? These questions help us establish whether certifications actually impact procedure at the farm-level. Certifications lacking in the first quality risk being irrelevant to social and EJ, while certifications lacking in the second risk being inconsequential. 

The missions of certifications like RFA and FTU to enable sustainable livelihoods for farmworkers and promote environmental stewardship are in line with core tenets of social and EJ. However, the auditing processes of these certifications have demonstrated weaknesses, as noted by recent RFA-certified pineapple farms in Costa Rica. Furthermore, the guidelines for these certifications may be poorly communicated with farm workers as shown by a study from Vakila and Nygren on Nicaraguan Fair Trade-certified coffee farms. 

USDA Organic and NGP are more closely aligned with environmental sustainability than social or EJ, yet they have more streamlined auditing processes because sustainability can be more directly quantified (e.g., unit volume of water usage). USDA Organic, for example, strictly regulates pesticides and herbicides, thus protecting farm workers’ health. Prohibited chemicals in NLAPS include methyl bromide, sulfuryl fluoride, and phosphine (aluminum phosphide or magnesium phosphide), exposure to which can affect fetal development and can lead to irreversible damage. NGP, on the other hand, does not regulate chemical substances; on the contrary, the products it promotes forgo the health benefits associated with reduced pesticide use in farming GM crops. In general, many larger social justice themes (minimum wage, underage labor, unfair working conditions) are not addressed by these sustainability certifications. 

The cost of buy-in is one major obstacle for smaller distributors. For example, the harvest process for GMOs and Non-GMOs must be separated to prevent contamination, leading to more labor for farmworkers. Investigations check for use of USDA Organic’s prohibited substances for three years leading up to product harvest; a waiting period that may prove prohibitive to some smaller farms. These smaller farms may not be able to afford the fees of the certification process, or the costs of regulations/liability insurance as required by schools’ procurement offices. Interviews with local players in food distribution, however, alleviated these concerns: Ms. Linda Recine of Princeton Dining Services confirmed that many small farms have difficulties affording the certification label, but asserted that a network of farmers, larger distributors, and university support systems help small businesses obtain necessary certifications and build a sustainable customer base. She cited a pilot conference hosted by the Princeton University Department of Finance and Treasury and Princeton University Central Procurement. This conference focused on woman-, veteran-, and minority-owned businesses; through the conference, Princeton offered to subsidize the first year of various certifications at no cost to the vendor. For obtaining expensive liability insurance, as well, outside help proves paramount: Ms. Recine says that many small farms may be able to get their goods onto campus by partnering with larger distributors. Jim Kinsel of Honeybrook Organic Farm stated that open communication with customers about the certification waiting period usually assuages their concerns about uncertified crops. 

Image of tomatoes being grown on a farm (Source: Canva Images)

Cost of buy-in shows that many certifiable farms may lack a formal label. Additionally, if farms pursuing certification already employ environmentally just practices before they apply for the label, we may see biases which interfere with our ability to assess certification efficacy objectively. A recent meta-study confirmed that many reports investigating the efficacy of certifications did not control for possible selection bias. 

With certifications alone, we are left with an incomplete picture of ethical consumption. If EJ certifications rely on vague self-improvement, sustainability certifications are not as justice-relevant, and all certifications are audited by third parties whose reliability is hard to ascertain, is a certification stamp on a unit of packaging truly enough to assert that a product was ethically produced? The ethical consumer is caught between a rock and a hard place; incomplete information makes it impossible to gauge EJ using certification labels alone. We will need additional information from producers to rely more comfortably on the value of consumer certifications. 

The solution to these concerns may lie in local purchasing. Sarah Bavuso and Linda Recine of Princeton Dining Services emphasized the importance of forming relationships with producers, citing the value of allowing farmers to see the campus and of university officials taking trips to farms and production sites. This relationship allows Princeton to be more hands-on with its food and to interfere when questions of ethics arise. Indeed, a 2007 study suggests that forming relationships with local farms decreases the distance that products travel, allows for cooperative relationships with individual farmers, and introduces flexibility in verification processes. 

Decreasing food-miles through local purchasing may be a critical component of both sustainability and EJ: as food travels and the supply chain lengthens, more middlemen get involved, and there are more opportunities for injustices and unsustainable practices. Each border that food passes through serves as another regulatory vulnerability for the introduction of harmful pesticides and food contamination. At each stop on the road, food loses freshness and emits greenhouse gases (GHGs) by burning fossil fuel through transit. Additionally, laws and regulations are more easily ascertained locally: consumers are more likely to know the minimum wage and regulations on working conditions for farms near their own homes. 

Local farms may also be smaller and more sustainable than larger national chains. Mr. Kinsel claims that larger farms are more likely to cut corners in the name of profit. While Ms. Recine confirms that larger producers may be less inclined to act ethically, she states that these farms have “come a long way” towards humane and ethical behavior, largely thanks to students and universities vocally lobbying for causes that were important to them. Purchasing certified food that is also locally grown may address many of the concerns introduced by the information gap mentioned above. 

Image of vegetables displayed at an outdoor stand (Source: Canva Images)

CONCLUSION 

Rather than relying entirely on certifications like USDA Organic, a supply chain can be created where the university shares the risk of crop production under unpredictable hydroclimatic conditions with the local farming community. One realization of a more local supply chain is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), where schools select membership for a season and receive fixed volumes of freshly harvested produce from local farms. Students receive fresh and nutritional food from farms that abide by local regulations. Farmers get money from subscriptions upfront, allowing them to expand and invest early. Schools build working relationships with constituent farms and their management, creating a point-person on the farm grounds who can verify safe conditions for farmers. Many local farms in the Princeton area (like the Snapping Turtle Farm and the Cherry Grove Organic Farm) already have some of the same certifications as larger factory farms. 

A CSA supply chain would fit neatly into many residential colleges for small portions of salads or boiled eggs and meats. Non-perishable products like crackers and cereals could still be purchased from larger certified producers. In this supply chain, certifications are relied upon for goods that are difficult to buy from local producers. The local economy around the university is enhanced by the CSA program employed for fruits, vegetables, and meats. There are, of course, logistic questions to be resolved: a supply chain where crop proportions are not predetermined is quite different from the institutional status quo. The feasibility of such a supply chain will likely need to be vetted through a pilot program or a case study of other institutions implementing a similar program. CSAs have been implemented on some scale at schools like the University of KentuckyRutgers University, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. We suggest schools start small: by implementing a CSA supply chain in an on-campus cafe or residential college. The program can be scaled up over time, after feasibility studies and conversations with local farmers. 

The feasibility of establishing a local supply chain will depend on how universities currently source their food. Ms. Bavuso indicated that many schools fall into one of two classes: self-operated schools, whose food procurement departments are university-run and in-house, and non-self-operated schools, whose food procurement is outsourced via contracts. Many schools employ some combination of these operations, with state schools being particularly strictly regulated via contracts (Aramark, University of Delaware; Sodexo, The College of New Jersey). Self-operated schools like Princeton will likely have more flexibility in vetting and choosing vendors. Non-self-operated schools aiming for social change will likely have to do so by lobbying distributors through the schools’ purchasing power or threatening to withdraw their business if practices are not improved. Not all schools will have the means to investigate each food product on their shelves: it will likely be useful to leverage an inter-school consortium of food procurement research, see the National Association of College & University Food Services, allowing inter-institutional procurement departments to swap findings and relevant research. 

The authors of this article do not wish to claim that certifications are entirely ineffective in gauging the social and EJ of food procurement. But certifications are not a panacea for ethical supply chains. Universities relying solely on these certifications for assessing food safety and social and EJ are not doing due diligence when it comes to ethical spending. It may take additional effort to switch to a CSA-style supply chain like the one suggested above; but if institutions are serious about the values that they promote in their dining services brochures, this added effort will be well worth the improvement seen in the quality and justice of the campus food. 

Princeton’s president Christopher Eisgruber wrote in June of 2020: “As a University, we must examine all aspects of this institution — from our scholarly work to our daily operations—with a critical eye and a bias toward action. This will be an ongoing process, one that depends on concrete and reasoned steps[.]” The authors of this article believe that a CSA pilot program would be one such concrete step towards action, a step that would be directly in line with the larger themes of environmental and social justice that have become more pronounced in the societal collective consciousness during recent years. At the very least, it is the duty of university procurement departments to state the steps they intend to take to address inequity. Princeton’s recent Supplier Diversity Plan is one example of such an effort in that it aims to support more diverse-owned businesses. As entities with large economic impacts, universities do have the power to effect real societal change. 


Shashank Anand: I am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, working with Prof. Amilcare Porporato. My research focuses on understanding the role of ecohydrological and geomorphological processes in the evolving landscape topography by analyzing process-based models and learning from the available observations.

Hezekiah Grayer II: I am a 2nd year PhD candidate in the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics, where I am fortunate to advised by Prof. Peter Constantin. My academic goals intersect fluid mechanics, plasma physics, and partial differential equations.

Anna Jacobson: I am a 3rd year PhD candidate in the department of Quantitative and Computational Biology. I am affiliated with the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and the High Meadows Environmental Institute. For my thesis work, I study energy systems and environmental policy.

Harrison Watson: I am a Ph.D Candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology working with Professors Lars Hedin, Rob Pringle, and Corina Tarnita. My work currently focuses on clarifying the forces that influence land carbon cycles using eastern and southern African savannas as a study system.

Sowing the Seeds of Environmental Justice in Trenton

Written by Laurel Mei-Singh

(Source: Trenton People’s Bookfair)

Magnificent, a hairdresser who lives and works in downtown Trenton, New Jersey, is one of ten adults gathered together in a community space. Meanwhile, an equal number of children paint pots outside, fill them with soil, and plant seeds to grow. On the topic of the lead-contaminated water flowing from the taps of many city homes, Magnificent asks, “What can we do, as a community, to address this issue?” This is Earth Day at the Orchid House: Sowing the Seeds of Sustainability and Justice, planned by the organizing committee of the Trenton People’s Bookfair and the SAGE Circle. We are discussing environmental justice issues in Trenton, a place just fourteen miles from Princeton but worlds apart in terms of access to resources such as clean water.

Environmental justice means that all people have a right to a safe and healthy environment with clean drinking water, fresh food, and life-supporting homes. Its inverse, environmental racism, means that environmental hazards disproportionally shape the landscapes and lives of people of color. A 1987 report, Toxic Waste and Race in the United States, and a 2007 report, Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty, confirm that race stands as the most potent indicator of proximity to commercial hazardous waste facilities. Why? Because a long history of racist policies has shaped places in the United States along racial lines, concentrating people of color in areas often near toxic sites while cleaving places into segregated spaces partitioned by highways, train tracks, and walls. The development of industrial facilities in areas populated by people of color shaped US cities in the twentieth century as white people moved to suburbs—a state-subsidized project that ballooned after World War II. Further, the Federal Housing Authority’s A-D ranking system from 1934-1968 used the racial composition of neighborhoods as criteria for insuring private loans, making it nearly impossible for Black people to obtain a mortgage.

Residential “security map” of Trenton, NJ with A-D “area descriptions” from the 1937 records of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. (Source: Mapping Inequality Project, University of Richmond)

Responding to these conditions, community leaders in Warren County, North Carolina merged the environmental and civil rights movements in the late 1970s to address toxic dumping in their predominantly Black community. This became the environmental justice movement, which sought to incorporate environmental problems confronting communities of color into growing mainstream environmental consciousness. Urban centers, such as Trenton, are what Ruth Wilson Gilmore, director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics and professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, describes as “sinks of hazardous materials and destructive practices.” This is largely due to the organized abandonment of “marginal people on marginal lands.”

. . .

Most who live in Trenton know not to drink water straight from the tap. It became obvious after I moved into my Mill Hill home in 2016 that the water tasted oddly metallic and slightly rotten, and we began to buy 5-gallon jugs from the grocery store, the kind that pull your back when you lift them up if you’re relatively small like me. Soon after, news outlets began to report that Trenton’s water supply is contaminated with lead; lead poisoning is dangerous for young children, causing developmental delays and learning challenges, and affects adults too. Even more disturbingly, test results from a 2016 study showed that twenty of the Trenton Public School District’s twenty-six buildings have at least one sink or water fountain emitting water with lead concentrations that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion. At Daylight/Twilight, a high school in downtown Trenton across the street from where we held our Earth Day event, a sink had levels as high as 1,600 parts per billion. Despite this study and media acknowledgement that Trenton Water Works has become a “failure” as a public utility, public officials have failed to communicate with Trentonians about the risks of drinking its water and how to remediate it. A July 31, 2018 letter sent to Trenton residents from Trenton Water Works indicates that contamination stems from lead service line pipes, banned for use since 1960. An added insert acknowledges that, “We violated a drinking water requirement” due to the fact that they failed to replace 7% of the lead service lines within one year of action level exceedance.

This neglect stems from the fact that Trenton is a “forgotten place,” typically regarded by its middle-class neighbors through the skewed lens of racist and dehumanizing tropes, particularly violence and poverty. But how did we get here?

Depiction of Trenton, NJ drawn circa 1882. (Source: Industries of New Jersey by Richard Edwards)

Multiple historical events have shaped Trenton’s environment. For centuries, the Lenape people lived in organized communities along the shores of the Delaware River until the 18th and 19th centuries, when genocidal projects displaced and killed many, while some remain in the region today. In 1679, Quakers led by Mahlon Stacy established a town called Falls of the Delaware and built a gristmill. William Trent purchased this land in 1714 and expanded the mill to become the major source of commerce—made possible by slave labor. In the 1800s, industrialists began to manufacture pottery, iron, and steel. The 1920s brought automation, mergers and consolidations, and attacks on organized labor. In the 1960s, businesses began to close shop in search of cheaper labor, and people with nominal wealth and resources capitalized on the expanding highway system, one cutting through the heart of the city, and moved to suburbs. The aforementioned race-based housing policies enhanced racial segregation, and white flight in Trenton’s environs continues today. While economic development often inoculates the wealthy from the ravages of capitalism, the disenfranchised—whose poverty contours along racial lines—must fight for their very lives. The famous Trenton riots of April 1968 that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King expressed the anger and frustration of the Black community confronting concentrated poverty and unemployment.

Mayor Carmen Armenti talking to Trenton residents after the riots of April 1968. (Source: Times of Trenton file photo)

A few decades later, the NJ Department of Transportation’s construction of the Route 29 extension that began in 1998 destroyed one of the city’s remaining environmental treasures: “a corridor of sycamore trees along the [Delaware] river’s embankment.” This cut off “the community’s once free and easy access to the water’s edge.” This area was once called “South Trenton’s Jersey Shore,” where kids swung from rope swings and frolicked in the water while adults fished upriver. Today, Trenton is full of contradictions. Trentonians rarely cross the highway to reach the Delaware River shore, despite their proximity to the water. The 2008 financial collapse largely thwarted aspirations for redevelopment and wrought a foreclosure crisis exacerbated by skyrocketing taxes. At the same time, Trenton is a vibrant and close-knit place, where “everyone knows your business [and] your neighbors watch your back.” It hosts city treasures like the Trenton Coffee House and Vinyl, Championship Bar, and Classics Books. Its current revitalization can be attributed in part to recent migrants from Central America.

Video of a performance by the band Buy Nothing, featuring Abdul Wiswall, owner of Trenton Coffee House and Roaster, performing a song about Trenton’s lead contaminated drinking water. (Source: Tess Jacobson).

I recount this history to show that, when tackling environmental racism in Trenton, a narrow focus on the intentional decisions of racist individual policymakers cannot possibly address the myriad environmental injustices that the people of Trenton face. Rather, the issue of lead poisoning and the failure of those with political power to address this problem cannot be separated from long and overlapping histories of racism, capitalist restructuring, and careless development plans literally built into the environment. Addressing this issue requires first and foremost an awareness of the many processes that have historically produced the organized abandonment of the city.

This brings us back to Magnificent’s inquiry: What can we do, as a community, to address this issue, or rather, all of these issues? Some of my neighbors believe that only two options exist for Trenton: the current state of disinvestment OR gentrification, the latter of the green variety that entails the planting of trees and the revitalization of waterways for tourists and professionals moving into the city. Yet neither of these options will serve people already living there, those who can barely pay the bills for the lead-contaminated water.

New Jersey-based public health psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove argues that when considering these rooted, metabolic connections of people to places a third way is possible. She calls this “Urban Alchemy.” It calls for holistic redevelopment grounded in community-based planning and collective place-making, a process that requires the coming together of people to fight for the whole. It calls for “unpuzzling fractured spaces” so that people can move freely and reconnect with people and places, for example, heeding calls to remove the Route 29 freeway. While bottom-up strategies such as urban alchemy are needed, strategies such as “social urbanism” involve government investment in infrastructure and services for the poor, including clean water and improved transit. These are the keys to an urban ecology that promotes environmental health and general well-being.

The organizing committee of the Trenton People’s Bookfair has initiated this process by opening up space to collectively envision what environmental justice means. We support not only lead-free water, but also community-based agriculture and arts, mom and pop stores, the retrofitting of abandoned buildings to benefit neighborhoods, sanctuary spaces for migrants, an anti-exploitative economy, and restorative justice and rehabilitation not incarceration. Grassroots, collective learning and visioning can serve as a foundation to make Trenton a healthier place, with clean water and other life-sustaining resources. It can spur informed action grounded in the daily lives and experiences of people living in the city, and in solidarity with people in places like Flint, Michigan.

This work does not aim for a balance between development and sustainability, or, in the case of Trenton, between gentrification and sustainability. This is a false choice. Planning and development must work to recuperate our connections to resources so that we can make thriving places for all, for many generations. The environment isn’t a distant place for recreation. It’s here, in our homes and neighborhoods, wholly embedded in our social and political life. Our environment makes the difference between a healthy life enriched by vibrant community and one cut short by toxic exposure. Consider not only the water we drink but also the food we eat and the systems that bring them onto our plates, the places we mingle with neighbors, the air we breathe and the industries that pollute it, the jobs we work and how our labor interacts with land to produce profit, our modes of transportation, and our systems of waste disposal, to offer a few examples.

Our efforts can take cue from environmental justice activists who have engaged in collective action for decades to envision economic and social alternatives that affirm all forms of life. Most importantly, this work recognizes that our communities and our environments are wholly interconnected, shaping our lives, livelihoods, and life chances, and the urgency of making our cities and neighborhoods life-affirming places for all.

This year’s Trenton People’s Bookfair will focus on environmental justice and will be held on October 6, 2018.

(Source: Trenton People’s Bookfair)

 

Laurel Mei-Singh recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship in American Studies at Princeton University and now serves as an Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawai‘i. She is currently writing a book that develops a genealogy of military fences and grassroots struggles for land and livelihood in Wai‘anae, Hawai‘i. You can reach her at meisingh@hawaii.edu.