By Jessica Huang
Photo via Jessica Huang
What degree/program are you pursuing at UCLA (include your year and focus)?
Hello! My name is Jessica Huang and I’m a third year undergraduate student pursuing a Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics degree and a Food Studies minor. I joined this major because I love looking at the details, even those under the microscope, and connecting them to the larger picture.
Talking synthetic chemicals at Mark Cuban’s RECESS Regionals. Photo via Jessica Huang.
What is the Global Food Initiative Fellowship?
The UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) was launched by President Napolitano in 2014. It asks each of the 10 UC campuses to think critically about how we can nutritiously and sustainably feed a population that is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025. This issue is of direct importance to the UC community, where food insecurity among students and staff is of growing concern. The GFI Student Fellowship program provides funding to students working on research, internships, or other projects with a focus on food.
Can you tell us a bit about your project as a GFI Fellow?
For my project, I’m focusing on the sustainability and agricultural side of food studies. I have been developing and focusing on determining the benefits on natural plant-based pest solutions both agriculturally and in the home and office space. Currently there are options for natural pest control for large farms, however in the consumer side of the industry we are lacking choice. More specifically, I’m looking more in depth into the production of goods and produce and how the whole process, from farming in the fields to transporting to the groceries near you, can be more sustainable. In working with a fellow student, Nandeet Mehta, in his agricultural solutions startup, Pyur Solutions, I’ve been researching the advantages of plant-based, eco-friendly processes and chemicals for the agro-industry and the consumer industry. In conjunction, I wanted to explore sustainability in a greater scope and am the co-founder of S8, an organization that will expand the community focusing on sustainability and provide a platform for discussions across all disciplines and industries.
What inspired you to get involved in this project?
Growing up, I never truly saw the value in organic or natural produce. In my house, it was always, “why spend $5 for organic eggs when they taste exactly the same as $3 regular eggs?” It wasn’t until I started really looking into what goes on behind the scenes in the production of food, in America especially, that I began to understand the benefits of shopping and eating organic. In working with the Healthy Campus Initiative, I grew extremely interested in nutrition and food, and simultaneously wanted to apply my research background and science-minded self, and thus, my passion in food science and the agri-industry sprouted.
What has been most challenging aspects of your experience thus far?
In filing S8 as a non-profit organization, I have encountered the Mt. Vesuvius of paperwork that comes with trying to file a federally-recognized organization. There are a lot of nights sitting with dictionary.com open on one tab and a 50 page application or document on another. The amount of which I am learning, however, is invaluable and makes it all worth it.
Food for Thought Panel: How Nutrition is Tied to Success. Photo via Jessica Huang.
What has been most rewarding about your experience thus far?
In regards to Pyur Solutions, whenever we determine a positive effect that hasn’t been noticed before it lights me up. Sustainable agricultural solutions have the ability to combat a variety of issues in our environment and the research is just beginning. We have a lot to look forward in learning in the future and I’m beyond excited getting to be in the forefront of this with GFI, UCLA, and Pyur Solutions.
In starting my organization S8, my initial organization was a student org at UCLA called SNAC, the Student Nutrition Advocacy Club. We hosted an event called Food for Thought: How Nutrition Is Tied To Success with high-profile panelists including NBA athlete Metta World Peace, fitness coach Koya Webb, renowned scientist Dr. Luke Bucci, and others. It was truly an amazing experience to see students and adults, (especially those who maybe only came to snap a pic with Metta) excitedly scrawling notes in the margins of their program from the information they learned.
How does your work relate to the broader vision of the GFI?
Agriculture and food science play hand in hand into how foods are consumed. I think a lot of people ignore that side because farming isn’t always the most jaw-droppingly sexy topic, but it is equally important. Same with sustainability, the way the world operates today does not allow for the maximum opportunity and prosperity that could exist.
What’s one of your favorite articles, documentaries, books, or video clips about food?
The article that spoke most to me is the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Annual Dirty Dozen Report that lists the filthiest produce offered in grocery stores everywhere, laced with chemicals that are a mouthful for me, even as the Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics major. How could you or I be expected to know what these chemicals are, let alone eat them? Definitely check it out here, especially if you are even slightly dubious about organics. It’ll make you think twice before you pop a chocolate strawberry in your mouth.
How can other students get involved in this issue or topic?
Join a student organization on campus, work with a nonprofit (they love passionate students), or intern! And the next time you’re grocery shopping, think twice before you make your selection. If you’re interested in hearing more or working about Pyur Solutions, S8, or have any questions about anything at all, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org — I’m friendly, I promise!
Anything last thoughts you would like to share?Turn your bottle of mosquito repellent or insect killer around to check out the ingredient list for chemicals like pyrethroids, piperonyl butoxide, or permethrin. Then, (shameless plug alert) stay tuned shortly for when Pyur Solutions can be found on the shelves near you full of ingredients you can actually recognize.