Avalon Gupta VerWiebe, a food studies graduate student in Syracuse University’s Falk College, is the first to receive the Evan Weissman Scholarship, a newly created scholarship fund honoring the late Professor Weissman that supports food studies graduate students. Gupta VerWiebe’s personal dedication and ongoing work in the fields of food and social justice and community food projects follow the legacy of Professor Weissman’s life-long commitment to food justice and using food as a tool for social change.
Gupta VerWiebe is from Syracuse, New York, but moved to Louisville, Kentucky where she attended high school and completed her undergraduate degree in public health. “From the systemic inequalities I witnessed, I developed a passion for environmental justice and later food justice,” says Gupta VerWiebe. Before starting graduate school, she was involved with many organizations working in food justice, such as Louisville Community Grocery, Field Day Family Farm, Garden Commons Community Garden, New Roots Fresh Stop Markets, and the Cardinal Cupboard Food Pantry, all in Louisville.
“I applied to Syracuse University’s food studies program because it offers courses that examine the social, political and cultural elements of the food system,” she says. “These courses are giving me the tools to advocate for transformational change.” The Falk College food studies program focuses on the social, political, economic, and environmental contexts of food production, manufacturing, distribution, and consumption—locally, nationally, and globally. Students of the program gain a deep understanding of food policy and governance, gastronomy, health outcomes of food systems, human nutrition, and food access.
“I hope to one day be able to work towards a more just food system that allows everyone the access to culturally appropriate, delicious, safe and healthy food grown and distributed by just means,” adds Gupta VerWiebe.
At Syracuse University, Gupta VerWiebe is completing a practicum with the university’s Lender Center for Social Justice. As a Lender Center Fellow, she works with the Syracuse Onondaga Food Systems Alliance (SOFSA) and is engaged in efforts to create an equity statement for SOFSA. In addition, she is working with the Onondaga Nation and with youth to document food stories of elders.
“Avalon stands out in her deep commitment to social and racial justice in the food system,” says Professor Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern, Gupta VerWiebe’s advisor and the director of the graduate food studies program. “Since returning to Syracuse last year, she has taken every opportunity to get involved in community-based food system projects here in the city. She embodies Professor Weissman’s personal and professional commitments to community-engaged research and creating lasting ties that improve food access and sustainability for all.”
Professor Evan Weissman was a tireless advocate for equity in the food system. A highly approachable, committed teacher who engaged students in community-based work to advance social change, his efforts provided the foundation for many communities regionally, nationally, and beyond for grassroots food justice initiatives. He passed away unexpectedly in April 2020. To honor his legacy and to continue the work he believed in so deeply, his family created the Evan Weissman Scholarship Fund to defray tuition costs for food studies graduate students.
“This scholarship is an invaluable gift that will allow me to continue these studies,” says Gupta VerWiebe. “I am beyond honored to receive this scholarship in Evan Weissman’s name. Although I did not get a chance to meet Dr. Weissman, stories of how he advocated for social justice in the local food system and within the University inspire me to do the same.”