How should the news media cover food justice issues?

May 4, 2021


In order to improve undergraduate science education, this project is part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) study that will assess the effect of interdisciplinary community-engaged projects on student learning (in the sciences and beyond). (NSF includes such social sciences as Anthropology in its definition of science.) Accordingly, teams of students in Race, Gender and the News and Environmental Anthropology collaborated across classes to design and develop an innovative solution for a problem identified by the community partner.

In this instance, the problem is the need to improve the way journalists report on food justice issues - a problem extensively detailed in the project brief made available to both classes.(The project brief is also linked in the sidebar, below.) Our proposed solution took the form of.a collection of reports based on ethnographic interviews as well as a set of webinars featuring journalists, food industry workers, scholars and policy experts. Our community partner in this endeavor is the Free Press News Voices project.

This page aggregates work produced as a result of a collaboration between undergraduate students in Journalism, African American Studies and Anthropology at The College of New Jersey, in partnership with Free Press, to discern the lessons from the Covid 19 pandemic for how journalists can and should cover food justice issues. You can learn about the larger research project by going to the Collaborating Across Boundaries to Engage Undergraduates in STEM Literacy, website.

The process

During the course of the Spring, 2021 semester, students in the two separate classes with separate assignments and deliverables focused on the teaching of disciplinary concepts and skills. This is consistent with the Collaborating Across Boundaries model. There were several joint meetings between the classes, and the teams met regularly outside of classes.

Our community partner representative, Mike Rispoli, joined us early in the semester, at midterm and at the end of the semester. In his initial meeting with the students, Rispoli introduced students to Free Press' approach to helping news organizations better understand community members' information needs. Students read FreePress' toolkit for creating engaged newsrooms and their guide to building relationships with communities. He also made himself available to students as a resource and helped them recruit participants for the webinar panels.

Students in both classes read the project brief and used it to brainstorm ideas for the part of the food system on which they wished to focus. Ultimately, there were five teams: Chain Restaurants, Family Farms, Family-owned restaurants, Grocery stores, and School lunch programs. Through readings, class discussions and their secondary research, the students learned about the food system, the media system, and the determinants of the working and health conditions of vulnerable workers in both systems.

The anthropology students completed training required for doing research involving human subjects. The journalism students did not, because that is not required in the field. Consequently, the Race, Gender and News students could not participate in the ethnographic interviews that the anthropology students conducted, but they did help recruit participants, and the anthropology students shared their analyses of the anonymized interview transcripts with their team counterparts.

Meanwhile, the journalism/African American Studies students took the lead on planning the webinar panels, which were to consist of representatives from a range of stakeholder groups that they identified from their research on the specific part of the food system. The anthropology students gave them feedback on their plans and supported their recruiting efforts.


The student teams produced:

  • Webinars drawing upon both journalistic and ethnographic research

  • Team reports with findings and recommendations

  • Presentations to the community partner and other stakeholders

Publicly available student work is presented or linked below.

Student Gallery

Chain Restaurant Team

I was just trying to take the pulse of restaurants around the state. I was asking him “how is this situation for you guys?” And it was like a therapy session. The whole industry is hurting right now... They say thank you for telling our story. Thank you for listening to us...Thank you for writing this. People need to hear what this is like for us.”

—Jeremy Schneider, reporter and webinar panelist

COVID-19 Safety Regulations in Chain Restaurants Webinar from Asaka Park on Vimeo.

Family Farms Team

There was no chance to hold land. Sadly, my family homestead, we're probably going to have to sell this year. We just can’t keep up. They rezoned us commercial. They pressured us to kind of move out of the area and make way for more McMansions.”

— Dr. Walter Greason, webinar panelist, professor at Monmouth University, and author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey

Grocery stores team

I hope that we take it upon ourselves to not forget...[grocery store workers] have families too, they have kids, wives, husbands, partners that they want to get home to safely as well. We need to appreciate the work they go through to make sure when we get done with work there is a hot meal on the table.”

Hugh Giordano, webinar panelist and organizer/representative, United Food and Commercial Workers union local 152

School lunch team

I was at a charter school and at that particular time the government provided lunches and food, but there was also certain times where like if a kid didn't have the money to get the food you couldn't give the main meal, you had to give them a peanut butter and jelly or a sandwich and I hated doing that. Most of the time I didn't unless, you know, I was ordered by my manager.

—School cafeteria worker, ethnographic interview

Click on the image to access the webinar recording.

Small restaurants team

“We know a lot of people who work in the industry who might as well take the benefits because it’s a scary time to be around all those people. On the flipside of that, restaurants that have bars in it - you’re still having people that drink whether it’s indoor or outdoor, and people become a little looser, and less likely to social distance. So it’s dangerous for these really hard working waitstaff... it’s dangerous for a lot of them.” -

—Francesca Avitto, webinar participant, co-owner, Lady and the Shallot, Lawrenceville, NJ

Press and social media comment

Family farms webinar panelist Walter Greason

Restaurant webinars panelist Jeremy Schneider

More about CAB

  • Visit the CAB Portal
  • Read our grant abstract
  • Visit our interactive story map to learn more about all our CAB teaching collaborations.
  • Our TCNJ CAB collaboration partners Dr. Marla Jaksch (Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies) and Dr. Matthew Cassell (Interdisciplinary STEM Education teamed with faculty and students from General Raj high school in New Delhi, India to create equity-focused STEM projects. Check out their project website and be inspired!

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