Anthropology’s Balasundaram connects local food system to sustainability

Sasikumar Balasundaram, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology is researching sustainability in society.  Balasundaram is an applied cultural anthropologist, formerly conducting field work in India and working the U.N. and is now looking into food systems intersecting with sustainability.

Sasikumar Balasundaram

“For me, sustainable food system involves challenging the growth-oriented capitalist project that undermines the close human and nature relationship over profit,” said Balasundaram. We have lost our food system, water resources and clean air to global capitalist.”

Balasundaram, who began working at SIUE in August, is a native of Sri Lanka. It was his humble beginnings in a small tea-growing community that sits 4,143 feet above sea level, that Balasundaram said has caused him to be a champion of food sustainability.

“We grew almost everything except rice in our village in Sri Lanka,” said Balasundaram, who recalls picking vegetables at the age of six. “It was a necessity. You either grew your food, or you starved.”

While he does not think the food system in the U.S. is as dire as it is in Sri Lanka, Balasundaram believes that there are some serious food concerns in America.

“We have increasingly become dependent for our basic needs, including food,” said Balasundaram, a member of SIUE’s Sustainability Action Group (SAG). “It is unfortunate that most do not either know where our food comes from, who grows it and even what is in it. We have become alienated from our food system.”

Balasundaram, who has been in the country for 10 years, cooks everything he eats. Gardening and eating healthy foods are lessons he stresses both inside and outside of the classroom.

“We have to show young people a model of what a healthy, sustainable food system looks like,” he said. “I want to be a part of reclaiming the high-jacked food system that is filled with chemicals. I want to engage children and young people in this effort.”

For the past three years, Balasundaram has been working on establishing a place where youth can come up with innovative ideas and support sustainable food systems. The center will be located on a 10-acre farm in Williamsburg, Virginia. where he lived prior to moving to Edwardsville.

While maybe not working on as large a scale as 10 acres, Balasundaram hopes to do the same thing in the Metro East area. Balasundaram has plans to use the community garden plot at The Gardens at SIUE for teaching and community engagement. He will also teach the course, “Anthropology of Sustainability” next year.

“Sustainability is about the future,” Balasundaram said, “and the future belongs to the youth and children.”

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