Janessa Contreras: How Food Access Affects Us All

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Published on Jun 1, 2021

My name is Janessa, and I am a high school senior in Calexico, a border town that combines American culture with Mexican roots. It is an impoverished agricultural oasis. While it’s among the largest agriculture districts in the country and provides healthy food for Northern and Southern California, there is nothing healthy about the environment our community experiences. We are exposed to terrible air quality caused by the pesticides from the fields. The Salton Sea, which is 30 minutes from here, is dried out. We live in a food desert and, to get any healthy food for ourselves, we have to drive over the border. My school has no healthy or appetizing food options, so I often wait until I get home to eat. I have friends who play sports and are malnutritioned because they don't have access to healthy food to keep their bodies healthy.

Being from an immigrant family, food, and the nourishment it provides, is such a big part of our culture. We don’t want to take food for granted or waste it, but oftentimes we don’t have access to healthy food, or food that is from our culture, to enjoy. I joined the #Food4All campaign through the Youth Advisory Council at UC San Diego because this issue is personal. Everyone knows someone -- a relative, a friend, a neighbor -- who doesn’t have access to healthy food. It’s also an equity issue. For example, CalFresh program provides food for college students, but leaves out [undocumented] immigrants and international students. We need to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food, so they don’t have to worry about food on top of everything else that college has to bring.

I want to be part of the solution in my community. I am attending USC in the fall and plan to study pharmacology and drug development to pursue a career in dermatology because it’s a pathway to directly help people. For example, in my city, it can get up to 115 degrees, yet we don’t see any advocacy for people to wear sunscreen. My degree will prepare me to make a difference by keeping people healthy, and I can still be an advocate if I go to medical school.

It’s important for youth to be part of advocacy efforts like this. If we start ignoring these problems early on or conform to the idea that there might not be any change, we’re part of the problem. If we can have our voices heard, we will be the ones holding the power. Now is not the time to turn the blind eye or be ignorant. It’s up to all of us to get involved, take action and not shy away from issues that surround us. I want politicians to direct funding to the right places. Just because they’re doing something, doesn’t mean they’re doing the right thing. This campaign shows where resources can be going and how. You can’t solve hunger in a day, but you can take a step in the right direction by providing food to everyone, regardless of their (immigration) status.

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