Fellow Monica Elizondo on Food Justice, the Global Food System, and Learning through Research

Monica (center) conducts an energy audit with members of Summer of Solutions: Oakland. 

Natalia Reyes, a fellow working on Communications, interviewed Monica Elizondo, a fellow working on the Global Food System Project and the Historical Roots of Structural Inequality Manual.

By: Natalia Reyes

Natalia: How did you become interested in social justice?

Monica: My mom works with social justice and food justice. I’d tag along with her to events when I was young. Also, I’ve learned a lot from talking to people in Summer of Solutions, a youth-led education program in the Fruitvale District of Oakland. When you know someone who lives with injustice, it’s different than reading about the environmental movement from a book. A friend living in Fruitvale told me how there were no healthy food stores near her, but she had no car to get to a place to buy healthy food. Hearing people’s stories made me realize that the environmental movement needs to be broadened and must include food justice.

What work does your mother do around food justice?

She has taught after-school programs at Fremont High School in Oakland about healthy eating and creative art. The long-term solution to unhealthy food options would be legislative changes. But in the short run, what can you do? You can bring awareness to the best current alternatives. She volunteers for a food justice collective and facilitates restorative justice in prisons.

I recently started learning about restorative justice as an alternative to punitive measures. It’s exciting.

I’m so excited about restorative justice too!

Could you explain what restorative justice is? 

Restorative justice is a process of healing. If there is a crime or issue, the whole community is affected. Therefore, victims, offenders, and members of the community can join in a circle process to talk to each other and the feelings and intentions behind the actions. Participating parties can come to a mutual solution.

I went to a restorative justice event hosted by my friend. He was in a gang-related incident at 15 years old and was imprisoned in San Quentin State Prison as a result. For his birthday, he wanted to have a Restorative Justice/Food Justice birthday party. He had a restorative justice circle and we planted an orange tree in his honor in Oakland. It was really nice. It was great to hear him talk about how he initially felt he wouldn’t be accepted back into the community, but he found support from local organizations. It was really touching.

How did you come to interview Dolores Huerta?

My mom (again) helped me do that. Amy Goodman (of Democracy Now!) did the actual interview, but I did the pre-interview. I was 10 years old.

What was that like?

It was really fun. I don’t think I really understood how important she was in creating social justice change through the United Farm Workers. She said very interesting things about her experience as an activist.

Where was the interview published?

It was published in a book of stories and interviews. I was surprised to hear that my interview is still being used today. That interview talked a lot about encouraging women to be a part of the social justice movement and creating peace or doing things non-violently. Huerta was involved in a lot of non-violent protest. She also told me that it’s really important to write letters to Congress, learn how to lobby, to try to create changes. She believed that, in the long-term, changing laws is how we can help advocate for social justice and non-violence. Naturally, she was very interested in immigration laws and migrant farm worker practices.

What are you working on for the Haas Institute?

I’m working on the Global Justice Program, specifically the Global Food System Project as well researching for the Historical Roots of Structural Inequality Manual.

What is your role in those projects?

Right now, I’m working on compiling all the smaller brands that top corporations in the global food system own: Cargill, Monsanto, Syngenta, and Nestle, for example. Cargill provides everything from sugar to meat and even metals. I’m compiling all of these to demonstrate how deeply embedded these corporations are in the food system, and the enormous amount of influence that they exert on the global food system.

I’m also researching the historical roots of structural racialization. We are creating a timeline of legislative decisions that have implemented structural racialization, and demonstrating how there is a trend of one racialized group being pitted against another racialized group, or otherwise relegated to inferior status. Even the names of legislative decisions may have derogatory titles, like the Anti-Coolie Act of 1862, which discriminated against Chinese immigrants. One pattern I’ve noticed is that exclusion often comes about by forcing a group to pay high costs. The Underwater America report that the Haas Institute has published offers examples of forcing low-income groups to pay when they can’t in the area of housing.

How does your work serve the larger mission of social justice?

With the Global Food System Project, we can start to see unethical practices that harm the environment, our health, and society, and that we need to have alternative practices. And tracing structural racialization throughout history can help people understand recurring patterns in the present and hopefully enable us to act on it.

What’s it been like working with experienced researchers?

I really love it. It’s fun to learn from them. Nadia, Elsadig, and Darren are very helpful whenever I have questions.

Is there anything in particular you’re learning on your own related to your interests?

I’m attending an event soon about disability and food justice. I’m interested in learning more about how disability and food justice, as well as race and income, intersect.


The ideas expressed on the Haas Institute blog are not necessarily those of UC Berkeley or the Division of Equity & Inclusion, where the Haas Institute website is hosted. They are not official and not of one mind. Thoughts here are those of individual authors. We are committed to academic freedom, free speech and civil liberties.