Alexa White studies sustainable agriculture in connection with a broader focus on environmental justice. What sustainable agriculture means to people from different parts of the world—and from different socioeconomic strata—is the focus of her dissertation work as a Ph.D. candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology. What environmental justice means to her is, “the right and autonomy for individuals to have access to fresh food, water, and basic human resources without being disenfranchised or oppressed.” 

An example she often brings up that captures elements of both these concepts revolves around a simple question: If you live in New York City and it’s January, how are you able to get a mango from the supermarket?

“That mango had to come from probably someplace near the equator,” she says. “Someone had to grow it in mass quantities, because it’s something that’s supposed to be available year round. It got packaged in plastic and shipped to you and put into your supermarket.

“And with agriculture, everything has a cost. That mango might cost a dollar, but that cost is paid for throughout the supply chain, because it’s outsourced to a community where people don’t have the power or the resources to ask for an appropriate wage, and they don’t have the power to not work with dangerous chemicals and carcinogens. The economic repercussions of changing that system have to support the people who grow our food every day.”