“The future of protein is fungi”… is Terramino Foods’ catchphrase. They’re proving it true. Terramino’s goal is to create a sustainable alternative to seafood using a nutrient-dense and texturally comparable fungi. Why? Because classic seafood production is plagued by a host of environmental problems.
The students of Experiential Learning through Food Systems do impactful and thought-provoking work. This semester, I had the honor of working on a project that will help share their stories and hopefully inspire others. The most digestible way to do this was as a series of short videos.
This semester I interned with Berkeley Unified School District at Malcolm X Elementary in the school garden. Everyday that I went into the garden, I got showered with children, plants, and food. The entire experience was so absolutely positive and I want to share one of my final days in the garden with you. One of my personal goals for this project was to effectively communicate complex science in a simple manner to young students. Upon discussing this with the garden teacher Rivka, she suggested that I design a lesson plan about leguminous nitrogen fixation. The third graders planted a crop of fava beans in the fall, so this felt like the perfect opportunity to connect with that experience and talk about soil health.
My semester’s journey with food has shown me ways I can continue creating positive impacts for the larger campus community. In the recent months, I have been facilitating a student-lead food justice class at UC Berkeley as well as working as an intern for the Basic Needs Security Team. Working on two different projects has exposed me to levels in the food systems I have never seen before. In seeing the interconnected parts of the campus foodways first-hand, my gratitude for the volunteers, workers, and families involved in this truly world-wide network grew stronger. Most importantly, this semester’s journey with food has taught me about the power of community and how our connection to each other is the only way we can combat the oppressive food systems we live in today.
Middle school is an interesting age, where students are discovering themselves and their love of food systems. Although they may not express that love directly, having a Garden and Nutrition Program to give access to essential information at such a formative age is necessary and important. Working at Longfellow Middle School was an amazing experience. This unique internship stems from a partnership between the Berkeley Food Institute and the Berkeley Unified School District to connect UC Berkeley students to intern for either garden based learning, nutrition instruction, or both, as was my case in elementary and middle schools. The teacher that I worked with, Ellen McClure, was in charge of both the school’s gardens and teaching the nutrition classes, which gave our program a nice balance to bring in some of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that we grew into the classroom to incorporate into our recipes.
Terramino Foods is a new startup company developing a fish-free alternative to seafood made from fungi. Founders Kim and Josh, both recent graduates of UC Berkeley, have invented a fermentation-based process for transforming fungi into a product that mimics the taste and texture of fish. So far, the company has developed a convincing salmon burger, is working on a salmon fillet, and intends to expand to other types of seafood in the future. Terramino products not only have the flavor and mouthfeel of fish, but are also nutritionally comparable. The fungi used is rich in bioavailable proteins and packed with Omega-3 fatty acids. However, unlike real fish, producing fungi requires a small fraction of the resources used for fishing or aquaculture. Kim and Josh hope that their company can reduce the environmental burden of the seafood industry by offering a fish alternative that is more sustainable and affordable, while also being delicious enough to satisfy the cravings of seafood lovers.
When I chose to add a minor in food systems to my degree in Society and Environment, I thought it would be a great way to stay as closely connected to the nutritional studies field as I could. Initially, I didn’t think farming and food justice were really areas of study I would be interested in, since most of my classes were focused on nutrition in developing countries and human food practices, but I soon learned otherwise. Seeing as this minor required a certain amount of hours of work in the food systems field, I immediately began to think of how I could connect it with nutritional and scientific studies. Having heard a lot about research work opportunities throughout my time in academia, I was hoping to gain skills and a deeper understanding of what it really means to participate in such research studies. As some of you are surely familiar, finding and securing an opportunity to be part of research projects can be very challenging, and in my particular case, it took a lot of effort and time to land one.
The undergraduate Public Health program at U.C. Berkeley stresses that one’s environment is central to their health. Since being introduced to this concept, I’ve been eager to understand the interaction between place, resource availability, and the policies that make up the surrounding environment with the health of different members of a community. The field of public health argues that some members of a population are disproportionately affected by certain health outcomes, not because of innate differences between groups of people, but rather because of the underlying social determinants of health. The social determinants of health are the physical, economic, and social conditions in the environment in which people live, work, and play that affect health, such as job opportunities, residential segregation, public safety, access to quality education, and public transportation. Groups with particular vulnerability to poor health outcomes include the economically disadvantaged, racial and ethnic minorities, pregnant women, children, the elderly, the immunocompromised, and those with chronic health conditions. Major goals in public health focus on closing the gaps in access to resources and reducing the unfair and avoidable health disparities between groups of people, which are defined as health inequities. Programs that work towards eliminating these differences ensure that every member of a community has the same potential to reach their optimal level of health.
For my community engagement project, I decided to to take on being a garden intern through the Berkeley Unified School District. I worked at Thousand Oaks Elementary School, and then halfway through I started to also intern at Oxford Elementary as well. When I first began working at Thousand Oaks, I thought to myself not only what I would get out of this experience, but also what positive impact I could leave with these students. With those thoughts, I didn’t know what my duties would actually include while being an intern.
Over the course of this semester, I had the privilege to intern with the nation’s oldest distributor of certified organic fruits and vegetables based in San Francisco, Veritable Vegetable (VV). VV distributes high quality organic produce to independent cooperatives, retailers, restaurants, schools, corporate campuses, and wholesalers. I worked under the Marketing Communications Manager at the company and assisted with tasks that dealt with promotion of the business and sales of products and services. My time at VV however was not limited to these tasks as I also had the opportunity to sit it on company meetings, participate in tours and volunteer events, and gain exposure to the many different departments of the company. While working at the company, I had the chance to learn more about the distribution side of the food system. The work that VV partakes in can be seen as the invisible efforts that take place in the food system. These distribution labors are hardly ever directly seen, making the efforts less thought of by customers as they purchase and consume produce. Interning at VV helped me better understand and appreciate the food distribution sector of the food system.
This spring I interned at Berkeley Unified Public School District’s Gardening and Cooking Program. I worked in the Cooking & Nutrition curriculum, which takes the form of after-school sessions; one part nutrition lesson, one part healthy hands-on cooking. I split my time between John Muir Elementary and Thousand Oaks Elementary, with kindergarten through third grade classes. After four months of “Can you go wash your hands again?” and, “Don’t yuck my yum,” here is the biggest lesson I have learned: Kids are powerful.
After spending a majority of my undergraduate career heavily involved in food systems work at both Berkeley and Hawai’i, it was a great pleasure to end my senior year weaving together and reflecting on my experiences through the Food Systems Capstone course. I took on a research assistant position in the Diversified Farming Systems Lab this past fall, working with Aidee Guzman, an ESPM PhD student conducting socio-ecological work in the Fresno area, and was lucky enough to be able to continue to do more work with Aidee this spring for my capstone project. The Diversified Farming Systems Lab commonly works on plant- pollinator interactions at the local and landscape level under the purview of Dr. Claire Kremen.
In the United States today, nearly 50% of all American adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.¹ People of color and low-income status make up a majority of this population due to a lack of access to healthy foods.³ Our current food policies pave the way for large-scale, pesticide-infused, fossil-fuel guzzling monoculture farms, factories, and corporations to thrive financially, while their consumers’ health plummets due to environmental and human health hazards. In addition, our industrialized food system illuminates the deeper racial and class-based structural inequalities that consume United States culture. In California alone, 4.9 million people face food insecurity, despite the state producing nearly 50% of the entire nation’s fruits and vegetables. 20.6% of California residents are poverty-stricken, the highest rate of poverty in the nation, and 24.2% of California adults are obese.² Food insecurity and obesity are often associated due to lack of access to fresh, healthy, and affordable foods, circling back to the overarching problem of inadequate food policies. This is a problem of both access and affordability; the former pertaining to inequalities in the distribution of grocery stores providing healthy food, and the latter in regards to governmental subsidies disproportionately given to corporate growers and food manufacturing companies. And this is where Fresh Approach comes in!
This semester I have been helping manage a research plot at the Oxford Tract with a group of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as UC Berkeley faculty. The research plot is being used to examine the effects of different urban farm soil management techniques, specifically no-till farming versus till farming and the utilization of cover crops versus no cover crops on soil characteristics and crop yield. The goal of the study is to produce tangible research results in a form that is accessible and useful to urban farmers, especially those residing in the East Bay.
For my community engagement project for the Food Systems Minor Capstone, I was a Marketing Intern for Back to the Roots (BTTR), a small company based in Oakland, CA that makes organic indoor gardening kits and is on a mission to reconnect people back to the food they eat through making it easy to grow themselves. Although the company is small, they have national distribution at some of the largest retailers including Target, The Home Depot, Whole Foods, and Amazon.