Nina F. Ichikawa is the Policy Director at the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI). She is a fourth-generation Californian and policy professional dedicated to making good food accessible, sustainable, and culturally appropriate. Prior to joining BFI, she served in the office of Senator Daniel K. Inouye and with the US Department of Agriculture’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” Initiative. In 2011, she was named a Food and Community Fellow by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. In 2009 she launched the Food and Agriculture section for Hyphen magazine, and she has also written for Civil Eats, Grist, Al-Jazeera America, NBCNews.com and Rafu Shimpo. Her writings on Asian American food and farming have been published in Amerasia Journal and Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader (NYU Press: 2013). Following research on sustainable food systems in rural Japan and Mexico, Nina received an MA in International Relations/Food Policy from Meiji Gakuin University and a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies/Food Policy from UC Berkeley.
How did you become involved in your current career?
I was always interested in food and environment, ever since I was a child. It took me awhile to figure out that this would be my career but I’m so grateful to the professors, mentors, and bosses who encouraged me along that path. Those who said, “food is a transformative issue!” and helped me see how to direct my passion with purpose.
What environmental issues are of most concern to you?
- Urban-rural disconnections and the lack of political will to solve the environmental problems we as humans have created.
- An economic segmentation happening where nature could become the luxury of the wealthy and urban concentration the reality of everyone else.
- Forgetting about the sanctity of food, part of which I believe allows us to waste, abuse, and destroy the very thing that nourishes our growth and, in many ways, our happiness.
What do you think are some challenges and opportunities facing women in the environmental movement today?
Women make tremendous leaders in every field, including the environmental movement. However, I think we face the same challenges in the environmental movement as we do in the rest of society: unequal pay for equal work, lack of leadership opportunities, lack of access to childcare and eldercare, lack of investment capital, and more. Until we fix those larger social problems (especially in the United States), we won’t be able to see the full power of women to fix our environmental challenges. That would be a loss for the entire movement.
What are your suggestions on how WEN members can become more involved in your sector and the environmental movement?
Food IS environment! Women have been responsible for so much of food cultivation and preparation for most of human history, so we have unique perspectives and understanding of what types of food humans need. We see something is wrong and need to raise our voices to fix it: in our local communities through building local food economies, by working to bridge urban-rural divides, by welcoming new women into our fold, by ensuring that our national policies don’t stand in the way of food security for families across the world. In the simplest terms, cooking and sharing a good meal with friends and neighbors can be a building block for big change. Finally, in the words of food activist and scholar Marion Nestle, “vote with your fork but even better, vote with your vote!”