A Food Journey
The first time I saw the Milky Way, I was seated around a campfire with a circle of elders in a small village in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. I stared up at the sky, breathing in the smell of burnt wood and thinking of the dirt that had built up beneath my fingernails from working in the ground all day. Seeing the Milky Way expand across the sky humbled me, and I was reminded that we, a group of young college students, were invited into their community to help them with a task that they were already experts at. Despite vast agricultural skills, this remote farming community had no income to support that lifestyle. We were there to plant a garden at the local school in hopes that it would economically support their village. Surprisingly, it wasn’t agricultural skills that the villagers taught me during our short stay in their homes. Rather, they taught me the importance of opening your doors to strangers and the feeling of community that sharing a meal after a strenuous day of work can provide.
After planting several other gardens in villages throughout Ecuador, I recognized my desire to obtain a degree in a nutrition-related field, but realized that, if I wanted to continue to study human nutrition, I needed to fully comprehend where nutritious food comes from.
I continued to work internationally and domestically with farming communities and took my travels to Barbados. The island itself was a contradiction: A strong farming community rooted in a history of sugar cane production that was coupled with a population of starving farmers and a growing number of overweight children.
Reflecting upon these experiences, I came to realize that promoting the viability of small-scale farmers was only half of the picture. The other side of the population, those who have been torn from their ancestral farming communities and native consumption habits, were not seeing the inherent value of many of these locally produced goods. I began to believe that these two communities could be connected through educational programs that promote optimal human nutrition and provide vulnerable populations with opportunities to access fresh produce.
After my return from Barbados, I took full advantage of every opportunity to travel and work in each aspect of the food industry until I had a well-rounded view of the nutrition and agricultural issues facing our country. In the early summer of 2008, I packed everything I owned into a minivan. My mission was clear: After four years of undergraduate study in Canada with most summers engaged in various learning experiences overseas, I wanted to move back to the United States and focus the rest of my education on the American perspective. I said goodbye to my friends, my family, and all other aspects of my life that seemed familiar.
My decision to move to California evolved from my undergraduate coursework at McGill University in Montreal, where I graduated in May 2008 with a Bachelors of Arts in Ecological Determinants of Health. It was a very interdisciplinary program and, through my course of study, I became fascinated with the interrelationship between human nutrition and environmental health. I decided that if I wanted to continue to study human nutrition, I should refrain from preaching the benefits of eating well without fully comprehending where nutritious food really comes from. Therefore, I decided it was prudent to move to California, the mecca of the agricultural industry, and weave my way through as many aspects of the agricultural industry as possible.
In my time on the west coast, I worked on several farms, served vegan fare at an organic restaurant, interned at a botanical garden in Northern California, and worked with a small landscaping company that planted native and edible gardens. I have lived in tents, in a yurt, on an ocean bluff, in an urban homestead, and traveled everywhere in between.
My travels culminated in an AmeriCorps position in Monterey County where I began working extensively within the Farm to School movement. I noticed a similar situation in California that I saw in my travels abroad: Despite being known as Salad Bowl Capital of the World, many residents of Monterey County lacked the knowledge, resources, and ability to consume healthy diets and achieve adequate nutrition.
I continued to work extensively within the Farm to School movement, leading farm field trips and student garden and nutrition education workshops while also coordinating a Harvest of the Month program. Through these experiences, I have learned that farming is more strenuous and rewarding than I ever imagined. More importantly, however, I have fallen in love with the joys of eating a healthy, robust, and varied diet, and want to share my knowledge and sentiments with those unable to experience the richness and benefits of such an abundant, wholesome diet.
My decision to enter the field of Public Health Nutrition was in part spurred by my desire to bring the voices of farmers to the table when creating nutrition as well as agricultural policies. My past experiences shaped my academic program in Public Health, which has strengthened my career goals.
I fervently believe that a deep emotional and experiential understanding of how our food is grown is one of the key elements to alleviating the unhealthy relationship that many people have with food. Furthermore, I see a great importance in integrating the concept of eating as a means of preventative healthcare into every educational program concerning human health, especially for at risk populations.
I am most interested in supporting and researching programs and policies that directly impact the diets of children as well as economically impact farmers. I have made it my personal goal to understand the nuances of chronic, diet-related diseases at the community level. I believe that it is equally important to understand the economic consequences of our food choices at household, environmental, and political levels. By addressing the nutritional concerns of the population, we can alter our agricultural practices and foster a healthier relationship with the environment. My goal is to develop the skills to speak to farmers, economists, nutritionists, and policy makers, to make well-informed, sound recommendations for policies and programs.
I look forward to hearing from you, and helping you transform your diet, your community, and the food system.
Jenna Segal, Owner/Founder, JSegal Designs