Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Education

First Advisor

Vivian L. Gadsden

Abstract

Youth of color are navigating an unjust food system that disproportionately harms their health and education. In addition, their civic contributions to community health are often ignored or replaced with narratives of apathy or helplessness. This negatively affects their desire and ability to contribute to healthier, more just, and more sustainable futures. This dissertation centers the experiences and perspectives of youth of color who are working to promote community health through an urban agriculture internship program. Drawing from critical literacy studies, and employing ethnographic and practitioner inquiry methods, I analyze how youth of color (de)construct and interpret texts as they navigate their food landscapes.The first finding of this study reveals that participants saw food literacy as an opportunity for critical inquiry, rather than as a prescriptive practice for “healthy eating”. They inquired into the stories of food “before and beyond the plate” (Widener & Karides, 2014) and showed that the social, political, cultural, and historical aspects of food are just as important as the nutritional composition of food. The second finding shows that the literacy practices participants engaged in while at the farm—food label analyses, food justice walks, seed keeping, and intergenerational foodways interviews—foregrounded opportunities for them to interrogate hidden power structures within food systems. The third finding shows that imaginative and speculative storytelling about food and environmental justice can facilitate nuanced and rigorous understandings of “real world” problems and solutions within food systems. The study concludes with a discussion of how critical and creative inquiry into the stories behind food can provide opportunities for bridging formal and non-formal learning, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, and facilitating intergenerational dialogue. In addition to sharing insights about how to better prepare young people for the world they will one day lead, the study presents an argument for building food systems that are more responsive to the realities, goals, needs, and strengths of the communities they are meant to serve.

Embargoed

Available to all on Saturday, July 05, 2025

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