I am an Assistant Professor in the Division of Agriculture, Food, and Environment at the Friedman School. My work is centered around developing and assessing strategies to improve food system sustainability. I consider sustainable food systems to have four core dimensions: environment, social, economic, and health. I use tools from industrial ecology, nutrition, and the social sciences to analyze food systems and diets. My research intersects with social justice by bringing data on the social risks in food supply chains to growing global conversations on sustainable diets. Social risks include issues of labor exploitation, health and safety, gender equity, and human rights, among others. Social risks of foods can be estimated, not unlike a carbon footprint. Now is a critical time to transform global food systems to remain within planetary boundaries; we must also ensure this transition reduces inequality and advances justice.
I am currently working on a project to estimate the risk of forced labor associated with the US fruit and vegetable supply. Jessica Sparks, Associate Director of the Rights Lab at University of Nottingham and Catherine Benoit- Norris, Co-Founder of NewEarth B, work with me on this project. We are interested in this work because foods that consumers should eat more of for health reasons, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, may have high social risks in their supply chains. It’s been a valuable experience to work with an interdisciplinary team on an issue of shared concern, which is common at the Friedman School.
I co-teach a course on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the Food Industry with Dr. Sean Cash. We were able to host Dr. Benoit Norris as a guest speaker to discuss social life cycle assessment, which is one way of estimating social risks. The CSR course includes a broad array of topics, ranging from business management theories, to how companies measure the sustainability of their operations and supply chains, to how consumers respond to CSR efforts. We have learned that some evidence suggests socially responsible companies do better financially than those companies that do not prioritize social responsibility. It is possible, but by no means easy, for companies to experience both kinds of success. I also teach a course called Fundamentals of U.S. Agriculture, which focuses on history, policy, and culture, using the lenses of equity and power throughout. Understanding why the US agricultural system looks and functions as it does today requires examining history and its through line to the present, including genocide, slavery, and the legacies of those systems. Injustice is foundational to our food system, unfortunately; this must inform what we teach, how we go about creating change, and the questions we ask. By inviting students to join these conversations early on during their time at Friedman, we can begin to build the awareness, vocabulary, and toolkit required to create equitable and just food systems.