Environmental Activism Started at Home for My Immigrant Family

by Linda Rodriguez

April 17, 2017

The personal is political when it comes to food activism, especially for this Salvadoran family adjusting to an unfamiliar food system in the United States.

The Rodriguez-Cea family celebrating the birthday of Grandma Amelia. © Linda Rodriguez

The mission of the environmental movement has always resonated with me and my immigrant family. The first time I heard of environmental activism was was back in 2006 from a Greenpeace email my sister sent me. From day one, I fell in love with their work for the environment. Greenpeace championed the importance of sustaining life on our planet, taking care of each other, and taking a stand for what you believe in. It was perfectly in line with my family’s core values of caring for others and speaking up when something didn’t seem right.

My family is from El Salvador, and we moved to the United States — the beautiful country I now call mine — when I was ten. The five of us lived in a cozy, one bedroom apartment. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and my dad worked all day. For a 12-year-old, life was great, but things were different for my parents.

For example, the food — it wasn’t fresh or organic. In El Salvador, the farmer’s markets weren’t hip and trendy places that only certain people had access to. They were just the way people bought food, and they were open on a daily basis. There was even a vendedora who would walk up to our street selling fruits and vegetables very early in the morning so people would have fresh produce daily. The best part was that you could bargain with the vendedora to get a better deal.

In the United States, produce usually comes from the supermarket, and instead of daily visits to the market, grocery shopping became part of Sunday’s to do list. We later found that there was frozen and canned produce, which felt convenient because trips to the supermarket wouldn’t be as frequent.

One day, we bought tomato cans for the coming week’s cena. Mami was making her delicious pollo guisado, ready to add the tomato sauce in the pan, but something seemed unnatural. The tomato cans had a bright pink color on the inside. In my 12 year-old mind, I thought that someone had painted the inside of the can with their lipstick. My mom didn’t know what to think, so she asked me to call the tomato company and translate for her.

In my 12 year-old mind, I thought that someone had painted the inside of the can with their lipstick.

And that’s just what I did. With my little voice shaking, I told the person on the line that we found lipstick-colored stain inside the can. They must have thought I was prank calling, but I persisted and explained that my mom had cooked us pollo guisado, which was now ruined.

We couldn’t eat our food, since we didn’t recognize what was in the sauce. It didn’t take long before they dismissed me and hung up.

So I did something even a 12-year-old could do: I got on the yellow pages and looked for Better Business Bureau.

I called, and a nice patient gentleman answered. I explained our situation, and he said not to worry. He would call me right back. Within the hour, we got a call from the tomato company apologizing for the inconvenience. They would pay for our meal, but they asked that we mail them the can for inspection of the contents.

Weeks later, we got a letter stating that the bright pink color was simply food coloring, healthy to eat. To be completely honest, that was the end of our purchasing canned tomato sauce. We switched to making our own, and we bought organic when we could afford it.

Because let’s face it — organic food is a little expensive, but in the end totally worth it.

So there it is — my family’s mini victory. One phone call was able to create some pressure on this company. Imagine what millions of voices can do if we unite and work together. We could protect our food so that our future generations can have a sustainable future.

Our future generations deserve the best we can give them. I want my kids one day to know that I did everything possible to provide them a healthy meal. I’m fighting for a world where food companies are completely honest and transparent, and we know exactly what goes into our food to make more informed decisions about what we put on our tables.

So what can you do? A great way to start is with what we put on our table. Think about which companies you want to support with your wallet because yes — activism starts at home. Then join our movement. This planet is our home, and we have to protect it together.

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Linda Rodriguez

By Linda Rodriguez

Latinx Engagement Senior Coordinator

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