How my Asian parents’ food waste made me an environmentalist

Growing up as a low-income first-generation Asian-American, I was motivated by the food insecurity of immigrant parents and fought for the planet.

I was born into an American culture that respects consumption. I was never shy and took home an extra serving of catering food from a school event. Not because I was stingy, but because the immigrant parents whispered the fear of hunger after moving to the United States to escape poverty and the Vietnam War. My six Chinese-Vietnamese families, like most families in Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles, struggled to get their monthly food stamps out.

First and last composting committee

While studying at Title One’s school, my eyes stayed on the food waste around me. Instead of providing resources for food insecurity, school managers poured money into the same milk carton that students like me couldn’t save and take home. I was overwhelmed and angry — a lot of food was thrown away, but families like me had a hard time putting food on the table.

As a member of the previous school’s relevant student committee, I proposed the composting committee. The committee will place trash cans with composting instructions around the campus. Students were given the option to dispose of food waste at the collector. The collectors were carried by members of the committee to a compost bin near the school yard. Before graduating, I wrote a series of instructions to the Future Recycling Commission, urging them to challenge their creativity to improve the school’s garbage system. But that wasn’t enough.

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“You have graduated and the gardening teacher is gone. No one wanted to join the composting committee,” my leadership adviser told me.

We were high school students in Title 1. There, the majority of student households are below the low income threshold.And only 76% of students graduate — If my colleagues didn’t care about school, how can they care about reducing food waste?

Balcony garden on the 3rd floor of my Asian parents

High school wasn’t the only one trying to reform the waste system. My family had a balcony garden. It’s a small space I advised them to make compost. I think about family finances — I didn’t have enough money for piano lessons or a Chinese language school, so where are the resources to learn about starting a food waste system?

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As the pile of garbage increased, my riding ground became frustrated. He wore a rubber back brace and devoted a rare afternoon to driving our family’s recyclable stuff to the center. Before the inspection from the manager of our apartment, he also pruned the dragon fruit plant, as the inhabitants of our apartment could not hang anything on the balcony in the event of a fire. I volunteered. From time to time, my Baba slammed the balcony door behind him. [1]!! “

When I got home on vacation, I noticed that roaches, fruit flies, and spider webs were settled in the balcony garden. All the dragon fruit carcasses were buried in the swill. Through WeChat, Mami learned how to fill a pitcher with water and add food waste to make fertilizer, but a bug occurred when the surface area increased with moist food waste. I told Mami this, but she was determined.

“Look at my huǒ lóng guǒ bǎo bèi [2], “She said.” Very big. very happy. “

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I couldn’t convince Mami, even though I had no choice but to reform my family’s swill system. I donated scrap to her pitcher-at least she was trying.

Food waste as an Asian American

Mami had the same proud look as the people at Quail Springs Permaculture Farm, whom she met on an environmental club excursion a few years ago. Two hours by car from UCSB, the farm welcomed us with peppermint tea and lemon scones.

A tall man in a straw hat — becoming known as Brenton Kelly, the farm’s advocate — talked about the ethics of permaculture. “It’s like a three-legged stool. Two of those legs are common in our dictionary: Mother care [nature] Take care of people who are social justice. The third is “fair share” or “sufficient”. Living on land and leaving horrific scars is not a fair share. ”

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The farm waste system is carefully selected for its usage, so most of the Swill is sent to goats or composted. Even used toilet water returns to the ground. I wish my high school had a waste system similar to that used by farms. Instead, every time untouched food was dumped in the trash, we contributed to the landfill.

“Everything is so perfect,” I told my clubmates, eating rotini salad, butternut soup, and wild rice for lunch. “It’s like watching a utopian novel come back to life.”

This anxiety was exacerbated when the farmers realized that they didn’t look like us.

I didn’t want to think about race. I was scared to enter an area I didn’t understand. Nevertheless, race changes how food and environmentalism are experienced and perceived. The members of my environmental club were Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, and Latin Americans. No one on the farm had our cultural background or experience. No one looked like us. According to my environmental studies class, people like us (minorities with low-income backgrounds) were thought not to care about the environment because they were worried about surviving from salary to salary. ..

However, low-income households that prioritize urgent concerns over environmental issues are often not true.Members of a minority community with a low-income background Tend to stand up Protect their rights and demand a clean and safe environment. Our community suffers disproportionately from cases of injustice and environmental racism. Our communities often do not have the privilege of resources to choose between fighting and fleeing.

University compromise

I found a chef with little waste Max La Manna On his Instagram, he shared tips on food waste, such as making something available from food waste and regrowing groceries by the windowsill. Now, wherever I move, the water-rooting plants take over the windowsills, balconies and patios.

The leeks cut 2 inches from recent grocery hauls grew slowly, and when I emptied their water sinks, they smelled fragrant with subtle water spoilage. The roots are enlarged. A translucent slime coated the tip. The leaves were wrinkled and hazy. I imagined they were praying for the autumn rain, so I spit out them and my dragon fruit, my tomato plants, and my food bank buds.

I decided to praise the green onions like this. Because as an Asian American, green onions are my salt and pepper. Mami taught me how to fold them into green onion pancakes (similar to mo banh xeo with creamy coconut milk). Leek always has a house in my family’s supermarket shopping cart.

Whenever Mami surprised me with a visit from Los Angeles, $ 4 green onions and other Asian staples found a way in my fridge. Thank you. Even with food stamps, I hesitate to buy green onions at a grocery store in Santa Barbara. Green onions are $ 1. There is not enough demand and interest from the wealthy white community here, and there is not enough Asian community compared to Los Angeles. It is cheaper to wait for your mom’s visit or re-grow with water.

Using the green onions that Mami once brought, housemates made Skee-Ball machine-length green onion pancakes on our kitchen island. His recipe beats umami. He baked the green onions in oil and then polished the dough with this oil to form a more flavorful flaky layer. We soaked the pancakes in hoisin sauce. Hoisin sauce is a vegan sauce that is usually served with seafood.

These shared moments around food remind us why I reused green onions and buried them in the food trash can, and why I became an environmentalist. Still, I’m still trying to figure out what direction I want to go. At the 50th Anniversary Ceremony of my university’s environmental program, the successful environmentalists I met believe in me, and my passion gives me a unique position and chasing my environmental career. He said it would make the world a better place. I believe in them. One day I would like to return to high school and provide a suitable food waste system.


[1] Too much trouble

[2] Baby dragon fruit