UC Berkeley’s Kathryn DeMaster discusses importance of intersectionality in environmental justice

Jorge Espinoza

Colorado State University’s Environmental Justice Working Group hosted Kathryn DeMaster, an assistant professor of agriculture, society and environment at the University of California, Berkeley, to discuss the intersectionality of food and social justice on Monday evening.

To show the intersectionality of environmental justice and social movements, DeMaster’s discussion centered around the Chicanx grape boycotts, the Black Panther’s “Free Breakfast for School Children” program and the revival of indigenous foods as part of the protests against Dakota Access Pipeline. DeMaster said these movements were effective at bringing a diverse range of voices to the forefront of environmental social justice.

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“I think that social movements are the only ways we create significant social change,” DeMaster said. “Each of these movements decommodified food, used food for a vehicle of social change that directly forced the government to make social change and used food as a way to nourish resistance to give people a sense of the way the goals of their movement intersect with other groups.”

DeMaster said that the Black Panther’s “Free Breakfast for School Children” program was started in response to issues of food insecurity in the African American community at the time, and it was successful at bringing light to those issues and creating social change.

DeMaster also said that the Chianx grape boycotts were effective because they highlighted the issues that the workers were facing at the time in regards to working in grape fields, and without those boycotts there wouldn’t have been change.

Ultimately these movements gave marginalized groups voices in environmental justice spaces in which they have been historically excluded from DeMaster said.

Assistant Professor for the department of sociology Stephanie Malin said this event was important because it highlights the importance of intersectionality within environmental social movements.

“All these different ways that people can experience inequality through their environments or not having a seat at the table in terms of making decisions about how their land or their water is used can have a lot of implications on their health and their quality of life,” Malin said.

DeMaster said when it comes to environmental justice, it’s important to have intersectionality to allow everyone to be a part of the discussion because it allows for a diverse range of voices to promote social change that helps all identities rather than just one.

“For one thing it’s an issue of power,” DeMaster said. “When any group is dominating the discourse, having one group in power means that one perspective is going to hold sway. There is so much that it lost when you don’t include a diverse range of voices.”

DeMaster also said it’s important to decommodify food because it would allow for societies to think about food as a universal right for everyone, rather than food as a tradable item. By doing so, DeMaster said there can be more intersectionality when it comes to environmental justice movements.

“We won’t solve the biggest problems in the world, like climate change, widespread pollution or social injustice if we center them around one identity,” DeMaster said.

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Collegian reporter Jorge Espinoza can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @jorgespinoza14