Lights, camera, food justice

Documentary filmmaker Sanjay Rawal visits NYU Tandon

Filmmaker, Sanjay Rawal, in a foggy field

Film director, Sanjay Rawal visited with Professor Alice Reznickova’s urban food security class. 
Photo from One Earth Film Festival

It’s not every day that an award-winning filmmaker makes a visit to an engineering school, but when Krishitha Raghuraman, a Business and Technology Management major taking a Sustainable Urban Environments elective, reached out via social media to Sanjay Rawal, he readily agreed.

Krishitha and her fellow students had watched Rawal’s documentary Food Chains (2014) in Industry Assistant Professor Alice Reznickova’s urban food security class and been fascinated by his exposé of the poor working conditions and exploitation faced by farmworkers in the United States — and the complicity of the supermarket and fast food industries.

Rawal, who appeared via Zoom, explained to the class that he began getting involved in various human rights campaigns in the late 1990s, and his desire to document what he was seeing led to his filmmaking career. It was a determined group of tomato pickers from Southern Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), who inspired him to make Food Chains, which since its release has helped spread the word about the group’s efforts to ensure a dignified life for laborers and a more transparent food chain. (And given the possibility that their practices would be revealed to the movie-going public, it  has also led several high-profile retailers and fast-food restaurants to sign CIW Fair Food Agreements establishing more humane farm labor standards and fairer wages.)

“It’s important to think about who holds the power in our food systems,” Rawal told the class. “That often overlaps with who holds political power, and it can be an insidious world.”

His latest film is Gather, which examines the growing movement amongst Indigenous Americans to obtain sovereignty over their food systems. It’s an area of deep interest to Reznickova, who will be offering a course next semester addressing the environmental and human tolls of our current systems and the drive for justice-focused sustainability, so more screenings may be in the future.

Meanwhile, Krishitha, for one, will long remember Rawal’s work.

I might never have seen Food Chains if I hadn’t been in this class and I might never have been in a class like this if I weren’t at a school like NYU Tandon, which not only encourages but requires you to have an ethical framework before you enter the STEM work world.”  

— Krishitha Raghuraman, NYU Tandon student