Celebrating 10 Years of the Fellows Program: Vera Chang

Vera Chang
Fellow from 2009 to 2012, based in Oakland and Seattle

Bon Appétit campus attended: Carleton College

Current job: I’m an environmental science, policy, and management doctoral student at UC Berkeley, where I’m also a National Science Foundation fellow and Berkeley Food Institute researcher. My research focuses on human rights, social change, and shifts in power in U.S. agrifood systems. In addition to my academic studies, I work as a freelance journalist and photojournalist.

Skill/wisdom you gained from the Fellowship: While on tour as a West Coast Fellow, I presented at 45 events at Bon Appétit accounts to over 1,500 people, including students and professors in anthropology, sociology, environmental studies, economics, business, and labor, among other fields; university administrators; and corporate executives. I became a confident speaker, panel facilitator, writer, and photographer. I’ve used these skills over the course of my career to investigate – and have a public voice on – hidden social and environmental problems.

How did the Fellowship shape your career choices?: While a Fellow, I spent two years managing and co-researching the Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the U.S. (2011), the most comprehensive report on the state of farm labor at that time. The report detailed the lack of health and safety regulations, inadequate enforcement of labor law, and consequent multiplicity of problems farmworkers face. I subsequently decided to pursue a doctorate degree to extend my expertise and seek structural solutions to exploitation in U.S. agriculture.

I currently research the development, expansion, and impact of the award-winning human rights model built by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a tomato picker-led organization based in Florida. I became a Bon Appétit Fellow the same year the company joined the farmworkers’ social responsibility program. Learning about modern-day slavery in Florida prompted Bon Appétit to ask what conditions were like in the rest of the country and inspired the research reported in the Inventory.

Memorable experience(s) as a Fellow: Galloping through 5 Bar Beef’s canyons in the Santa Ana foothills, riding a combine across a section of Shepherd’s Grain’s 9,000-acre no-till fields in Washington, suiting up in Tyvek for a tour of an industrial fresh and liquid egg product producer, witnessing slaughter through Lorentz Meat’s “glass abattoir,” seeing the 95- food fishing vessel St. Jude’s on the Pacific, eating dinner with Mills students in Frog Hollow Farm’s orchard, wild foraging for chanterelles with Bon Appétit chefs in Oregon…

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