Who’s Hungry for Change?

Left to right from top: Rachel Sumekh, Adrionna Fike, Anthony Reyes, Aviva Paley, Breanna Hawkins. Chanowk Yisrael, Estella Cisneros, James Harris, Janaki Jagannath, Kristyn Leach, Leah Atwood, Mai Nguyen, Sammy Gensaw III, Saqib Keval, Nikiko Masumoto, Nare Park, Shakirah Simley, Sarah Ramirez, Ruben Canedo, Sophia Cheng.
Photos by Fabián Aguirre and Maya Pisciotto of The Understory: 

During trying times, despair can gnaw at you. And yet, in the face of all that is difficult, monstrous, odious, unfair, and unjust in this country, it is also true that there are many citizens doing their level best to make a difference in their communities and beyond in the face of great odds.

One is Sammy Gensaw III. Fishing his whole life, he grew up on the Klamath River on California’s far north coast. Now on a mission to save salmon, Gensaw, a member of the Yurok tribe, co-founded Ancestral Guard to teach youth about the traditional foodways of his tribe. “It’s not just a financial hardship that I am [part of] the first generation in my family who can’t make their living as a fisherman,” Gensaw says. “It causes me physical and spiritual pain.”

Another is food activist/educator/writer Shakirah Simley, cofounder of Nourish|Resist, a multiracial political organizing collective of food workers in San Francisco. “The majority of the people who feed us are black and brown people who don’t receive fair wages and don’t have access to health care or decent food,” says Simley, whose social justice group uses its diverse skill set—from baking to organizing—to educate people about unjust policies and prepare them
for acts of disobedience.

And there’s attorney Estella Cisneros, a daughter of Mexican farmworkers who grew up in the Central Valley. She provides legal counsel, mostly for immigrant farmworkers, at the nonprofit California Rural Legal Assistance in Fresno. “Who else is going to help make the Central Valley a better place for people than someone who grew up there?” asks Cisneros, who works on cases involving wage theft, worker health and safety concerns, and sexual
harassment claims.

These are three of 20 emerging food systems changemakers from across California highlighted in Hungry for Change, a multimedia project recently released by the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI). This fall, UC Berkeley, where BFI is based, plans to host a public event featuring these food systems leaders so they can share their work with a wider audience along with their hopes, dreams, and needs to continue to push for reform. The changemakers will also be invited to a BFI career panel to offer advice and inspiration for the next generation of food systems advocates.

The goal of this undertaking is to showcase the experiences and motivations of individuals working towards justice, equity, and health in food systems by celebrating their achievements as well as spotlighting the challenges they face, says L. Ann Thrupp, BFI’s executive director. These innovators have battled racism, sexism, and lack of resources with resilience, determination, and an indomitable spirit. Thrupp hopes their successes inspire others to get involved in food systems work.

The stakes are high. “This [work] is about protecting our community, building resistance, and maintaining our identity,” says Gensaw. “It’s about our survival as a people.” ♦

—Sarah Henry

Read the changemaker profiles and view a short companion film featuring these innovators at food.berkeley.edu/resources/changemakers.

Contributing editor Sarah Henry served as the writer for Hungry for Change.