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Farming for Change

Professor Choi Chatterjee shares tips on achieving a sustainable future

Close up of Daisy, resident goat at Choi Chatterjee’s home

Choi Chatterjee

Close up of Daisy, resident goat at Choi Chatterjee’s home

Janice Peregrina, Staff Reporter

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Environmentalism and sustainability are often associated with either being a product of hippie culture, or something that is unattainable in the modern age. It is hard to reflect on the choices we make, and make changes when the culture around you ignores sustainable options. Even in these shaky times, the little shouts you make can and will be heard, and the effects can spread like wildfire.

Professor Choi Chatterjee is a resident History professor at Cal State LA, whose outside projects concerning a healthy environment recently garnered attention from the Los Angeles Times. Earlier this month, Professor Chatterjee and her husband were interviewed about their zero-waste homestead in Altadena. Their home and the waste it produces is cancelled out by the energy it provides, both from their garden and the animals they raise on their land. By composting their food waste, growing their own fruits and vegetables, fertilizing their garden with manure from their goats and chickens, and beekeeping, Chatterjee’s household is an inspirational example of sustainability in the modern age. Environmental reasons aside, the garden has also brought her closer to her neighbors, and closer to nature. She and her family frequently give the actual fruits of their labor to the people in their neighborhood.

When speaking to Professor Chatterjee, one can sense the passion she holds for the environment, however, It did not start out this way. Creating her household was not an easy task, and it came with many obstacles.

“The biggest obstacle was our own ignorance about sustainability and our mindless reliance on industrial systems,” said Chatterjee, referring to herself and her family. “We had to read, research, and experiment our way towards sustainability and believe me when I say we have a very, very long way to go.”

Lots of experimentation must get underway to create a zero-waste household, especially when living in an urban area like Los Angeles. Chatterjee admited that she is “very fortunate” that her family has a garden, but highlighted a number of other ways Angelenos can take part in limiting their energy use.

“We could do simple things like cooking and eating more vegetarian meals, compost our kitchen waste, eliminate single use plastic from our lives, turn off the air conditioner, use less water, use public transportation, ride bikes, or drive electric cars, install solar panels on rooftops, grow herbs and salads in pots on our kitchen windows and balconies, plant drought tolerant trees, and most importantly, spend more time outdoors (away from our little devices) in our beautiful Southern California,” said Professor Chatterjee, who firmly believes that the change must come within ourselves. “We only protect that which we love and deem important.”

Chatterjee’s concerns for our habitat stem from different sources. She and her husband are of Pakistani and Indian descent, and these cultures “care deeply about the environment.” Her sources of inspiration come from both “the scientific and research based environmental movement in the US that has grown in the last two decades” and author and activist Michael Pollan.

“Michael Pollan has done more than anyone else to create awareness about food and sustainability. He is definitely one of our main sources of inspiration,” said Chatterjee.

The positive impact on the environment her family has achieved is a great step in the right direction, but Professor Chatterjee believes that her efforts will ultimately help move others, including students, towards adopting sustainability efforts of their own.

“I teach a class on food justice and know that our students… care deeply about the environment. I am very hopeful that student pressure will force the administration to adopt sustainability seriously.” Additionally, Chatterjee had a list of efforts she wishes students will push to implement throughout the university. Implementing solar panels on all buildings, urging the food court to have more vegetarian options, food waste composting, more drinking fountains, increasing promotion of bicycle use and carpooling to get to campus, and hiring someone with an advanced sustainability background to implement these changes on campus. All of these are environmental goals Professor Chatterjee believes Cal State LA should work towards.

If you share similar ideas and want to see these changes move forward, make some noise. Environmentalism isn’t unattainable, and if you love your university and give it importance, your actions will help keep it running to produce the least amount of waste possible.

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