Learning Through Our Food

Learning Through Our Food is an oral history project created to gain a greater understanding of food literacy in its most basic form: that is, how individuals relate to food through their personal history. It highlights the narratives of students who are involved in campus organizations outside of the existing food experiential education spaces and their experiences associated with food.


Methodology and Analysis

Achieving food literacy and food sovereignty in the student population at UC Berkeley has been challenging. Without an understanding of how students participate (or not) in food systems education and what the barriers to entry into educational spaces are, existing experiential learning spaces on campus can only reach students who already have the knowledge or interest in the opportunities that these spaces provide. We must first understand the relationship between food and learning in student experiences – particularly the experiences of students from marginalized communities – in order to create inclusive, meaningful, and engaging experiential education spaces in which students feel ownership and connection.

I draw much my definition of “food literacy” from Lesley Bartlett’s study of literacy in Brazil. In this ethnographic project, I conceptualize food literacy as an individual’s ability to participate in food systems – the language, skills, and resources to which they have access so that they may make decisions and acquire information regarding the food they eat. I seek to understand the role of food in an individual’s life, the meaning various foods hold and the interactions involved in the individual’s conceptualization of food. Food literacy, then, is a function of other parts of the individual’s life – their schooling, their workplace, their life at home, and their social connections.

Through the oral history interviews I conducted with eight students, I found that the campus food spaces – the gardens and other experiential learning organizations – were largely unknown to students. It appears that the information is difficult to access for transfer students, who often begin their academic careers at Berkeley with little to no support in navigating campus resources.

The acquisition of “food literacy” often takes place in interactions between children and their caretakers. But it is also often not until a student attends college that they have the opportunities to engage with their relationship to food; as one student noted, it wasn’t until he left his parents’ home that he recognized his connection to his family’s cultural backgrounds. Food is intertwined with culture. On the journeys of engaging with our cultural backgrounds, we find many encounters with food – how it’s grown, how it’s made, and whose hands we receive it from.

As the many organizations in the UC Berkeley food system continue to strive towards equity and inclusion, it is important to recognize that many students feel most welcome and committed to a space when they feel as sense of belonging and deep personal connection to that space. Sometimes, that manifests in the interpersonal connections that students form between each other – for example, in the common passion for community service or in shared beliefs. Other times, this sense of ownership is rooted in the empowerment that students feel when they are provided with opportunities to be leaders or spaces to solve community issues collaboratively. It is different for every student and for every space, but what is important is that each student within a space is given the opportunity to shape the space in a democratic way.