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Featured Faculty: Sarah Wald

The Environmental Studies Program is excited to welcome Sarah Wald as our first joint hire with the department of English. She is set to begin teaching in both departments this fall, and is also excited to engage with the new ENVS-affiliated Food Studies Specialization.

Dr. Wald’s interest in environmental studies began when she herself was an undergraduate, during the global justice protests against the WTO in Seattle in 1999. The rhetoric of the movement intrigued her: “‘Teamsters and Turtles, together at last,’ was one of the slogans,” she recalls. “I wanted to know why it was so strange to imagine environmentalists and labor activists working together. Why weren’t mainstream environmentalists more engaged with the issues facing working people and people of color?” This sort of questioning triggered her involvement in the field, and she also believes that it sustains her current research, which strives to link Race and Ethnic Studies with environmental cultural studies.

Both inform a manuscript she is currently completing, entitled ‘To the Farmer in all of us’: Race, Nature, and Citizenship in Representations of Californian Farmers and Farmworkers. In it Wald mines newspaper articles, pamphlets, novels, and short stories for twentieth and twenty-first century Asian American and Latina/o voices, asking the questions: what have been the representations of Californian agricultural laborers, how do cultural understandings of nature “shape the racial gate-keeping of the nation,” and “what do these works tell us about the ways we imagine nature and landscape in relation to nation and the ways we racialize that relationship?”

Wald is excited about the opportunity to continue this scholarship at the University of Oregon, and as a professor affiliated with the Food Studies Specialization, she is interested in how a focus on producers of food, rather than consumers, might help develop the sustainable food movement.  “Documentaries like Food, Inc.,” she explains, “tell us that we can vote with our dollars. Promoting consumer citizenship has all sorts of ideological consequences that we don’t often consider, though. Emphasizing consumption as the primary way to exercise political power privileges those with more money. If you vote with your dollar, those with the most dollars have the most votes.  It also suggests that privatization (rather than federal regulation) is the solution to environmental ills, worker exploitation, and food safety.”

As a result, Wald wants to find a way to prioritize producers’ voices, and she believes that the UO’s focus on collaborative engagement with the food communities of Eugene and Springfield is a valuable tool for getting there. Not only do such partnerships pair activism with academics, they prompt important questions: do we best reduce pesticides by buying organic, or by increasing regulation? What issues are important to consumers, and are they different than those important to producers? Which voices are currently prioritized? “There’s a lot of inspiring scholarship and teaching happening in the program around issues of race and ethnicity and environmental justice,” Wald explains. She expects that this focus meshed with community engagement can be a powerful mix.

Such perspectives will inform her teaching next year, including a graduate course entitled Ecocritical Approaches to Race and Ethnicity and Food Matters. In the mean time, she is currently settling in to the city and is looking for recommendations for hiking and biking close to town. Please join us in welcoming her to Eugene!

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.