My name is Tyshenna Phillips and I was born in Greenville, North Carolina. I spent a good portion of my childhood in this area surrounded by many farm animals such as cows, pigs, horses, and chickens. I remember as a little girl being able to go outside with my mom and collect pecans, pears, and plums from the trees in my grandmother’s front yard.
As I got older, our access to food swiftly changed. I moved to Greensboro, North Carolina in the midst of my fifth grade year. At the time it was just my mom, my younger brother and I. We endured many tough times and to this day I admire my mother’s resilience to raise and feed a handful of children without much help. Initially when we arrived in Greensboro, we were able to obtain food stamps which gave us access to fresh fruits and vegetables. However, as my mother’s wage slightly increased, our food stamps were taken away. We struggled quite a lot with food; our diets became pretty homogeneous and often consisted of white rice, Ramen noodles, and frozen dinners. As time progressed, I discovered that many of my peers were experiencing the same hardship. When I graduated high school in 2016, Greensboro was listed as the most food insecure city in the United States.
Now I am a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying Sociology, which involves the study of social groups, behaviors, and problems. Within this major I am specifically interested in studying and advocating for food justice and sovereignty. Food justice acknowledges that there are communities, specifically communities of color, that have been systematically disadvantaged in the production, distribution, and consumption processes of our food system. In other words, communities and individuals of color experience difficulties in their access to food, representation in decision-making processes regarding food, and obtaining living wages in the food industry.
My passion for this topic stems from my life experiences and the experiences of others I’ve witnessed. I have also spent a good portion of my academic career learning about food insecurity and volunteering at food distribution centers. I’ve realized that food insecurity is just one small issue in our food system. Many people are not aware of how their food gets to them or the type of labor required to create the product we purchase from the shelves at our local grocery store (if we have one). It is very important that we forge connections between individuals experiencing food insecurity and individuals that are being exploited at the production and distribution level of our food system such as the immigrant farmworkers that we are advocating alongside. The inequalities experienced by both of these groups are often the result of inequalities deeply embedded into the fabric of our society such as racism, sexism, and classism. To simply tackle one and ignore the other would be setting ourselves up for failure because they are all interrelated.
I am grateful to be interning with SAF this year as it gives me an opportunity to learn more about the lives of immigrant farmworkers and to expand on the knowledge I’ve gained through my personal life experiences and academic career at UNC-Chapel Hill. I am most excited about meeting like-minded people in this organization, the projects I will be working on with the Communication Arts Director, and reconnecting with a vital part of my own childhood. I am a bit concerned about what the rest of this year will be like especially for those from disadvantaged communities as they have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of this pandemic. However, I am still grateful that there are organizations such as SAF that exist to minimize the effects of these issues for communities of color such as the farmworkers we’ll be meeting soon!