Episode 25: : Being a Changemaker with Savannah Gardner


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:03

Today I chat with Bruin alum Savannah Gardner about her amazing journey. As a change banker at UCLA and beyond. Struggling with food insecurity, Savannah began to see her struggle from a new perspective while taking a UCLA food justice class. Through the UC global food initiative Fellowship Program, Savannah, in turn, was able to take substantive steps to help other UCLA food insecure students. Keep listening to hear Savannah story and her insights on finding one’s path in college. So anyway, Savannah, thank you so much for being here. What a pleasure.


Savannah Gardner  00:40

Thanks for having me, Wendy.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:41



Savannah Gardner  00:42

I’ve been on the side of the microphone. Yeah. Behind the scenes, right.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:47

I mean, you’re the one who really helped kick off this podcast in the production side of things. So it only bodes well for the podcast that you get to be interviewed.





Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:59

I hear that you’re also behind the original ideas. So I’d like to open up our conversation with your story of how you came to UCLA. I know you just graduated just about a year ago. And what was your journey, you know, to get here to this wonderful university?


Savannah Gardner  01:17

Sure. So I was born in New York from the Bronx. I moved here when I was nine. I went to public school on the east coast. My mom remarried and moved to Los Angeles, he moved to the San Fernando Valley. And I started in LAUSD, the highly gifted magnet, I moved to middle school in the valley. My mom separated from my previous stepdad. Then we moved to the west side of Los Angeles. And then I ended up going to a private school on the east coast to boarding school to Phillips Exeter. And then that was my first kind of taste of


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  01:54

How the heck did you get to Phillips Exeter, from the west side of Los Angeles?.


Savannah Gardner  02:02

You know, they came to this is like, why tracking is a real thing. The  Dean of a different private school came to our school just talked and, I could get out of science class, if I got a signed note from my mom saying that I could go to this dean of somewhere, you know? Yeah, I forged her signature, and I went to the Dean’s talk. And then I was like, Oh, this is like an interesting private school, I was kind of pursuing alternative high school options anyway. There’s like the Cal State LA program with you take your GED, essentially to skip most of high school. So that was an option for me, or maybe pursuing a non traditional route anyway. So then this kind of came up. And then I just picked a couple of schools applied, and ended up in New Hampshire. And then by the end of my time there, and I applied to colleges, I came back to Los Angeles, my family was a big pull, and that my mom and my three younger siblings. And then five years later, I’m here. I’m graduated, very thankful of everyone that got me here, including myself. And throughout that time, I kind of got involved in food justice and environmental justice and environmental racism and learning about my place in Los Angeles, really learning to appreciate the city for all its good and his bad. And being a change maker in that. So that’s how I’m here. And I’ve worked for HCI most of the time.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:26

Right on so, you know, what were the challenges that you faced along in that journey? It sounded like one  was not a challenge that you just sort of landed on this opportunity that took you to New Hampshire and  to your high school years. But what what did you face that were facilitators or challenges?


Savannah Gardner  03:47

Sure. So I included my, the part of my life where I went to New Hampshire because I think that was a me being in boarding school, this very elite school coming from a low income background with a single mom and three younger siblings growing up on CalFresh, which is California food stamps. There was a lot of dissonance that I felt there, but I was kind of at a point where I really wanted to assimilate to this and kind of hide my where I came from. And then I came to UCLA and I was kind of carrying that. I always worked, I always helped support my family. And I took a food justice class here at UCLA where I learned more about the systemic reasons why families like my own end up in situations like my own and I think that gave me a lot of solace and empowerment and being able to feel like I was a Changemaker in my situation you know, as opposed to feeling like I had to hide that I supported my family or how to hide where I was from that if anything it made me more proud of myself for being there and proud of my mom and my siblings for going through so much with so little but still being on the other end of it


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  04:56

and being loving and a family.


Savannah Gardner  04:59

Yeah, and still doing are part within our community despite it. I think i needed kind of that juxtaposition in order for me to have really appreciated where i come from as opposed to think a lot of folks because of the situations where i’m like want to hide it or you don’t you know there’s a lot of shame associated with being poor, but through this  experience at UCLA, I was really able to kind of harness it and use it as something that makes me inexplicably me as opposed to a part of me that I’d rather change


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  05:31

And accepting of that. So it’s  interesting, I think you know of course during a developmental stage in high school everyone wants to belong right, and so you ended up in a situation where you were more different than some of the other people in your class or maybe not. Everyone might have been hiding something that was fit into  something that didn’t didn’t feel like it was assimulating in you know or being equivalent. So in  your sort of journey of this realization, how did find that? I mean it sounds like you learned about food justice through this great summer program right and we’re going to get to some of that what you’ve done with that which is so empowering and so admirable. In terms of that realization was it just like one moment it was an ah-ha? Or how did it  evolve? I know it’s it’s hard to know because it was in real time and then now it’s retrospective.


Savannah Gardner  06:36

I think that part of it did kind of originate in high school when you’re given a lot of autonomy in boarding school which is I think good and and bad and it can be very challenging


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:50

But you didn’t get kicked out no which is a huge badge of honor these days!


Savannah Gardner  06:58

Yeah, I’m very grateful for the opportunity because it gave me one of the opportunities was to really see myself in that space and find myself and like find friends that came from the same background and really finding solace in other people and other women there and having  mentors or femtors  that were really wanted us to graduate. That was having people that really wanted to cultivate for you, rooting for us, and having that when you’re away from your parents especially when my mom had a lot going on here you know she was having a newborn and a three and five year old or a four and six year old at that time. So that was I think kind of the first part of it for me where I really had people in my corner


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:39

to sounds like that would be a piece of advice you’d give others if they found themselves in the position you were in .


Savannah Gardner  07:46

Yeah, and I mean I’ve for a lot of reasons I’ve had the privilege of being trapped in my education of being like in a gifted program or being selected to go to the public school or got into UCLA. Those are the kinds of things where if you find your environment there and those people that do root for you there, it can make all the difference especially when you’re questioning you know your place there, if you have imposter syndrome or whatever it may be. I think that was a big part of it earlier on. I think a lot of it the challenges were associated with my socioeconomic background you know I worked at least 25 hours a week, I really had a kind of section of my life around how I could work, how I could support myself and support my family. Financial aid is great but there’s a limit to it. Rent is high here so there was kind of that necessity I had but also the essential part of my being here is also needing to embrace myself and me being a student and taking this time for me trying to find a balance of the two was one that took a really long–I’m still on that balance-but you know are trying to find that balance but I think that really happened here at ucla and being able to see that I can do what I need to do for me as well as my family and I could have both, like I could have my cake and eat it too even if I gotta pay bills you know. I think that I was really lucky that I had support systems and jobs that allowed that flexibility. So that challenge I think is probably going to be a lifelong challenge for me, but I think it really kind of crowned and I started to understand it more much more during my time at UCLA.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  09:21

Well I had the chance to observe you and you really did do a great job balancing all of that and having first met you when you were in the food justice class and learning about the work you did with food forward, I feel that you really embrace and take on opportunities as they come your way and in a very, I think not only productive way, but imaginative. So I’d like you to give me a little bit of background or reflection on and explain what first of all the Global Food Initiative and  the fellowship that you did with them and what that led to. You identify that as a big turning point in your sort of own self realization of  acceptance.



Yeah, I really did kind of have a moment where like one class changed my life i had gotten a freshman year i had gotten an offer for an internship in dc for the summer but i didn’t get as much money as i had needed to be able to they could pay for like part time stipend and i couldn’t swing that um in order to send money home and i was kind of at this point where i was like oh god what am i going to do for the summer you know how can i kind of find that balance and further myself but also makes money and make sure I don’t have to worry about the fall and a friend just kind of a friend actually from Swipe Out Hunger which is a student group here that addresses food insecurity amongst students primarily but also just the greater LA community.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  10:51

And tell me a little bit before you go on, what’s Swipe Out Hunger just so people  understand.


Savannah Gardner  10:55

Yeah, so Swipe Out Hunger is a national organization that started here at UCLA. Its primary goal is to address student food insecurity in a sustainable way primarily through using campus meal plans and repurposing the leftover meal plans that are already paid for for folks that need, primarily students in need so kind of a student helping student model. Our chapter here at UCLA also kind of did more traditional outreach of general awareness among the student body, helping in research we did  big events like Sandwiches for Smiles where we’d make sandwiches that would stock the food closet here on campus, which is a anonymous command come out exactly what it sounds a food closet you can just grab what you need.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  11:39

So you were already involved in some sort of form of alleviating hunger for your peers and others?


Savannah Gardner  11:48

Yeadh and I really had a moment and kind of at the same time that I chose not to take this internship cause of my own financial security was kind of the same point where in Swipe Out Hunger, I had originally joined Swipes because I had been a part of working with people experiencing homelessness in high school, I thought it’d be a great thing for me to continue in college. I really loved it and made me feel like I was bridging a gap of the inequities that we have in society but on a personal basis, and I love that so i joined Swipes and Swipes really, although we went and worked at soup kitchens or worked with folks experiencing homelessness, it was really about alleviating student food insecurity and being able to name that you know move from Oh I’m serving someone to actually  the club is serving people like me. Like I’m going to the food closet and I’m receiving these meal vouchers that we collect was really difficult and they kind of happen at the same time where I was introduced to this food justice class and I was having this moment where I was like maybe I shouldn’t be in this club. You know like if this club is supposed to be serving people like me, why should I be here, why do I deserve a seat at this table? Obviously I stuck with it, I moved through that. End of freshman yea, I signed up for the class on food justice. They had a paid internship as part of the service learning class for this dual part model where you learn about an aspect of society or social inequity and then you also serve within it.  The Global Food Initiative under President Napolitano also paid the first cohort which is why I was able to do it. I’m very grateful for that.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  13:22

That Global Food Initiative paid for three cohorts, three summers worth, not necessarily the paid internship part but the other the classes.


Savannah Gardner  13:32

Yeah I mean that was that was a perfect example like model for me later and that if you want people from a background that you’re serving, you have to incentivize and make it accessible for the people that you’re serving. So if you want food insecure people to take this class and learn about their own community in Los Angeles, then you have to take away the stress of applying for summer financial aid and  finding dual funding for this internship,  the class.  So I kind of at the crowning where I was learning, I was really trying to see whether or not I fit into Swipe Out Hunger. I felt like I fit, always fit, but it was hard feeling like I was questioning whether or not I was the person to do the work.  And then I took this food justice class and you know we’re learning about CalFresh and WIC and sustainable food systems and food apartheid and all sorts of stuff, and it was very interesting for me to finally feel like the situation was flipped you know? When we start to talk about food assistance and what people what access people have to food assistance in the city of Los Angeles, I can describe what WIC was to the class because my mom is on WIC which is for women with infants and children that’s like a select meal program for mothers with children under five and pregnant moms. So you know like being able to take that initiative around this table of 20 really bright people and being like oh god I know what it is, like this is what it is and these are the problems with it, you know, and I can now name that inequity, you know, like on WIC, you you don’t have a lot of autonomy, there are certain criteria of things you can buy, right? So you could buy like 24 ounce cereals, or in total 64 ounce of these certain types of cereals at the certain stores that accept WIC and being able to describe that frustration of not being able to buy the cereal my family would buy if we had the money to without WIC, and then being able to be given the space to talk about that in the circle. And also have other people build off and share their own experiences. Or have folks who never experienced that, ask questions about it, you know, and ask, why is this the way it is, was really a turning point for me and understanding, I’m great, because I made it here, and I deserve to be here. And I’m really grateful for having that experience much earlier on than a lot of folks do when they come to college, especially like first generation students.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  15:54

And so tell me about your internship with Food Forward. Yes, which was the one with your food equity class that summer.


Savannah Gardner  16:01

I really wanted to work with Food Forward, but it was the farthest one I took the bus. So there was kind of that accessibility factor. I wasn’t sure but thankfully the person I was paired with had a car. And I just kind of made it work when I couldn’t get there with him. And we got paired. So it’s an LA based gleaning organization that centers around three main gleaning platforms, which involves using produce that would otherwise go to waste and we purposely get for folks in need. So there’s the backyard harvest program which gleans from local orchards, people backyards, really a community-centered. You have volunteers come to someone’s backyard to clean this 40 year old orange tree that’s been sitting in the middle of Brentwood since before the house was built, right. And so that that those ornages  don’t go to waste. Maybe that family doesn’t  have the capacity to eat 200 pounds of oranges, but  can’t have the capacity to clean them themselves. But you have volunteers come collect that and that goes to a local food insecurity reduction organization. Or you have the farmers market gleaning program, which is what I worked with, which goes to local farmers markets and has a relationship with farmers where the farmers donate their extra produce from the like two dozen farmers markets in Los Angeles.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  17:08

I see you guys at the Brentwood one every Sunday.


Savannah Gardner  17:11

Yeah, we’re there. Then the last one is the wholesale produce market, which goes to kind of the big shop downtown at 3am, where Ralph’s would buy their produce from or in Vons, and gleans the excess produce from that, and that’s on a millions of pounds scale. The farmers markets are on anywhere from like 500 to 2000 kind of pound scale that gleans, so that we would collect it per bucket. And then the backyard harvest really depends. But it’s normally on a smaller scale, unless it’s like a larger gleaning of an orchard or something. But yeah, I got placed with Food Forward, and they needed help with their farm Farmers Market recovery program doing outreach. And I really loved their their model of being a middle person organization where they see this excess that would otherwise this produce that would either go back to compost for the farms, or go to waste, or go to like chicken feed. And then these people in Los Angeles that, you know, the city has a huge food insecurity rate and high social inequity. So being able to bridge that gap of the best produce that we could get in Los Angeles from these farmers markets and being able to give it to the people who would have the least access to it. And it’s a really wonderful experience, just go to the farmers market and talk to farmers and have them fill up some boxes and collect them and weigh them at the end. And then you get to see the organization’s pick them up at the end of the day. So I spent a summer interning with Food Forward and learning about the farmers market recovery program. And then I was approached by the Healthy Campus Initiative in conjunction with Cathy O’Brien, who ran the food justice class, asking if I would like to further this program and bring it actually to a campus that would be able to glean produce for food insecure students. And so this was also kind of like the situation where I was like, I could get paid to do something that I really like, awesome. I’ll take it. I don’t really know what’s going on. But I’ll take it. And it was a fellowship, it became a fellowship under the Global Food Initiative, which was President Napolitano’s initiative to feed the world sustainably and equitably, by 2050.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  19:11

And we were starting in our own backyard, so to speak.


Savannah Gardner  19:14

Yeah. So the fellowship really focused, you know, people that were researchers that have been working on, like the effects of climate change and food for years, to people like me, you know, sophomore, students 19, that were just working on a local farmers market trying to feed families that they went to school with, and everywhere in between. And I’m really grateful for having that fellowship support me and not being able to be exposed either.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  19:39

And you were in that fellowship for two years, right? Let’s Yeah, well, I think that you know, the example of you picking up your experience with the food justice course and really being responsive to the requests, you know, that we had for you through Semel Healthy Campus Initiative to really bring it to life over the course of now, four years really, it’s been tremendous. It’s a real asset because you identified something that was really useful. And then you partnered, as I remember with Tyler Watson and brought it to our graduate student housing and here to our food closet into a cafe 580, which is a nonprofit that serves our population here at UCLA and graduates as well. And one of the things that is striking to me that really came to light in your sophomore year was this myth that students in four year elite universities like, like UCLA, aren’t food insecure, that everyone is food secure. And the data rolled in early on in your sophomore year that showed that, indeed, there’s some real challenges that we have on our campus and across campuses in the United States. And it sounds like part of that might have been the fact that we didn’t know this is because people weren’t sharing. It sounds like but now, are you finding now  since that data rolled in and there’s more attention to this as a challenge that people are more open and less shameful of their experiences?


Savannah Gardner  21:17

I sure hope so. Yeah, yeah, I think that it is changing. Like the food closet here at UCLA started in 2009, kind of post recession, so did a lot of our other economic crisis response teams. The 580 cafe opened up at this turn where there were so many more students that no longer had support, possibly from their families, right, if they were going through some part of the recession. But that I think, brought to light that this is always been happening. And there’s always been food insecure students at elite colleges, and now that there, you know, are diversity initiatives or initiatives that get folks from different socio economic backgrounds or this slow buff up of financial aid, that more students started to come here and really make their own communities here. I think people have been talking about it, if they’ve had the support, to, you know? Food insecurity happens at higher rates, and different depending on what community you’re from, depending geographically where you’re from, it can look different. And I think people were sharing it, but not on a scale that it currently is, you know, now it’s, I think people have always been sharing about it with people that they felt comfortable and supported with, but now it’s, you know, you can have these high level meetings where someone’s like, yeah, I’m food insecure. And this is, or I have been, or I’m on CalFresh. And you’re talking about it with people that maybe you aren’t as comfortable with, because it is coming out more in the open, I think is the barrier that is being broken down after the food insecurity study come out?


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  22:43

Yeah, I mean, we here at UCLA, actually had a survey prior to the UC wide survey that I feel was helpful to us to then dive into more deeply a focus group sessions that really brought to light, sort of more personal experiences of food and security that Hannah Milan and Tyler Watson ran. And what’s striking to me is that, you know, when I shared it with the more senior administrators here at UCLA, like the VC of research at the time, was just so saddened by it, that he offered funding from further research to help support the understanding why this is occurring. And you know, what’s interesting is that the data, if you look at it, the majority of students are food insecure, probably associated with their economic circumstances, family circumstance. There is a percent though, and we found it also in the focus groups of students that probably are food insecure, because of not having the food literacy to prepare food, or even those that are food insecure, from a financial point of view, need that kind of component, which means, you know, learning skills to actually prepare healthy foods on a budget. And what’s your feeling about that?


Savannah Gardner  24:00

I think that both are really necessary in order to be able to see the entire spectrum of food insecurity and seeing that it doesn’t just look one way, it’s not about not having food, it’s about not having enough food, it’s not about the type of food you eat, it’s all of it, you know, it’s all of the above. It’s how to cook it. It’s everywhere from where you get it to how you dispose of it, like all of that encompasses someone’s food security. I think that the really interesting part that came out of those food focus groups that Hannah and Tyler did, was that students didn’t  necessarily feel supported in learning those skills here at the university, before the university, depending on where they came from, and didn’t really feel like they had an avenue that they could harness those if they wanted to.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  24:47

Right, so thankfully, now we’re gonna have a teaching kitchen. It was something long and hard fought but we got it.


Savannah Gardner  24:55

Yeah, I think UCLA is doing a lot to ensure that we are kind of working on those short term and long term goals of addressing the whole spectrum of food insecurity.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  25:05

Yeah. And you worked on that too, with your CalFresh initiative. So tell me a little bit about that.


Savannah Gardner  25:12

Sure. So the first year of my fellowship, under the Global Food Initiatve was specifically to really structure this program sustainably and efficiently per Food Forward program from the farmers market to student housing, or to students. And we actually had a roundtable with the Chancellor, where it had students primarily from the community itself, so food insecure students, but also food insecure students that were changemakers. In kind of these first conversations or large scale conversations about food insecurity on campus. So like students with dependents and students from Bruin shelter, which was UCLA’s first sponsored student run homeless shelter for other students in Los Angeles, came and really had a roundtable with their Chancellor, and we’re able to kind of share some of the things we’re working on. And it was a very enlightening for me in that moment, when we had that roundtable and made it really clear that I could be really, I could tell what we’ve done with the cleaning program bringing 1000s of pounds of produce to students with dependents and family housing and the food closet. But ultimately, this is a short term, if anything, the shortest term solution,  it’s really alleviation or a poverty alleviation or giving you some food. So we wanted to bring it to the next level, you know, like people are having their lights turned off, you know, or going to school and having to stay in the library because they don’t have heating, or they got an eviction notice, you know that there’s the oranges we bring on a Sunday, one Sunday a week, although they do a great job, they’re not addressing that disconnect. Right? So we started to move forward with enrolling students on CalFresh and having our CalFresh initiative,


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:50

So that’s the snap or the food stamp program.


Savannah Gardner  26:53

Yeah, so Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for the state of California. So students are able to qualify, it’s kind of like a sliding scale, depending on how many dependents you have and how much money you make. But students are eligible. And a lot of students knew that they were know that they’re eligible. There are of course, eligibility requirements. But we thought, one, the next step in really giving people the autonomy to buy what they eat, and having a longer term solution of food insecurity would be establishing CalFresh and working with Department of Public social services.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  27:25

There was a really great article that featured you in the Daily Bruin here our daily UCLA newspaper. I want to say a quote about what you said in that article, you said, “if you were food insecure, not making ends meet CalFresh gives you the option where you don’t have to take loans out for food, or go to a place that’s too far from campus. We’re just trying to break the system and let students know that’s there. And it was only 1% of students are enrolled in CalFresh. at UCLA, even though 42% are reported to be food insecure throughout the UC system.” So that means that of course, 42% are necessarily eligible. But there is some need there that isn’t being met clearly.


Savannah Gardner  28:09

That was kind of our first step in really seeing, like, who would be eligible if we tried this on campus, you know, could people get $194 for food in a month, you know? Which may not sound like a lot, but when you’re already struggling to make ends meet, that could be the difference of more meals a week, that could be the difference of, you know, being able to cook something that’s  culturally relevant to you and what something you want to eat when you’re right before you study in the library all night. So we started having these kinds of CalFresh fairs on campus by word of mouth, I was helping enrolling students out of 580 Cafe, before we had this kind of really more established program. But we were working with  MSW or a Master’s in Social Welfare.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  28:53

And where are we now in the percent of people? It was only 1% that were enrolled a couple years ago. So where do you do you know where we are?


Savannah Gardner  29:03

I’m not sure where we are now. That’s the UCLA CalFresh initiative has really grown exponentially in the last year and a half.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  29:09

So we hope that it’s higher at least.


Savannah Gardner  29:11

Yeah, but we have you know, we have hundreds of people coming out to the fairs over the course of the year, are applying. And we have 40,000 people, right, on campus kind of across disciplines. And then we have 42% of them are potentially food insecure, right? So it’s about 20,000. And even if 5% of those food insecure people on campus, you’d have 2000 more food, secure people on campus, and that would mean healthier communities on campus and more people are eating,  more people want to be happy, more people  are eating what they want to eat,when they can would make this campus a better place for everyone and more equitable in that way. And I think that’s really why that was so important to our initiative.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  29:57

Yeah, I mean, what strikes me so profoundly and I am going to do a plug for a TEDx talk that I featured your story because it really, to me, says so much about somebody who has the capacity to turn something that can be challenging into something so positive and working towards bettering not just your peers lives, but But you’ve had great impact, I think across  California being a real model for other students and other UC campuses. And I’m just curious, because in the TEDx talk, I talk about, like what it takes to perhaps have better well being, after graduation, citing this Gallup Purdue survey that identifies the people who find professors who care about them or a mentor who encourages them or engaging in an internship that allows you to apply what you’ve learned in the classroom. I feel like those kinds of features in your four years at UCLA you did all of that. You found like the Catho O’Byrne to inspire you and you did this internship. Did you ever think you would, and you would end up where you are now? If you were to look back in time, what were your expectations when you first arrived?


Savannah Gardner  31:23

Yeah, I thought I was going to be a marine biologist. And I thought I was going to work on a boat and dive with sharks. That was kind of my goal. So since I moved to California, I really fell in love with the Pacific Ocean. And having my course at UCLA really showed me that I have a different purpose, and that I really have the responsibility to address the inequities that we have for families that look like mine, or families that don’t look like mine, and being able to do that in a way that’s holistic and with love and care. And that’s where I am now. And I’m really grateful for that it took me a long time to get here.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  31:59

But what were those challenges? You laughed?


Savannah Gardner  32:04

It’s something that I think we’re oddly told that, you know, from a young age like, well, you know, you’re asking something, I asked my little sister, like, what do you want to be when you grow up? And I’m like, she’s six, I don’t know what I want to do, why am I asking her? You know, we have this one track, or we’re taught to have this one track. And veering from this one track can be kind of hard, especially in college, when you’re like, you think your major is so important to what you do for the rest of your life, you know, or you’re wondering if this is this is it, you know, I had to make all these decisions right now is if you don’t have a lifetime ahead of you. God willing. So I think that was hard for me. And then also being able to kind of grapple like being a first generation student, especially from a low income background, like you have that expectation where you have your whole family to look up to, and so kind of grappling with like, okay, well, like I still want to buy my mom house, so that she doesn’t have to work till she can’t anymore, you know, for whatever reason. I want to do that in a way that is oriented and community justice. And that could be kind of hard sometimes. But making like seeing that those are my priorities. And just like I had to find the balance before I can find the balance, again, is really important to me.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:08

And so what would you give your freshman self advice? What would be the advice you’d give yourself?


Savannah Gardner  33:15

Oh, my gosh, there’s so much advice I would give myself. I think I would tell myself to not worry so much.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:23

About what?


Savannah Gardner  33:24

I think I spent a lot of times worrying whether or not I mean, rightfully so worrying or what worrying whether or not I had a place here, you know, whether or not what I was doing mattered by my family, of course. And I think that sometimes the university community  and just the way of life on a quarter system can allow you, you know, can kind of foster that worrying, you know, you got to test tomorrow, you got work the next day you got this and this to do. And I think I could have enjoyed a lot of that time a little bit more than I did, until I did start to find kind of my rhythm and my purpose. And that balance. I think I also would have told myself to ask more questions earlier on, just to people I admired. I think especially coming from that perspective, you’re like, you have this professor, that’s amazing, you have a like a mentor, that’s incredible, or you have someone that you haven’t met yet, but you want to and that could be kind of intimidating. And there are a lot of people that I lost opportunities to just being able to, like thank them or for talking or being able to ask them more questions that, you know, if I could have done that experience over, you know, ultimately, what time I got to lunch didn’t matter as much. Or whether or not I thought I should ask question didn’t matter as much, you know, to, to the kind of brains that come to this environment. I think I should have, I could have just done it more often and not worried about it.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  34:45

There was more trying to be a little bit more assertive or brave in situations and not rushing around. Definitely taking a breath.


Savannah Gardner  34:56

Yeah, and I deserve that breath, you know that I was allowed to have and I was deserving of it.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  35:03

That’s a good piece of advice for everyone isn’t it, and also to be more loving and forgiving to yourself.


Savannah Gardner  35:10

Mm hmm. Especially in post grad, I think I had such a purpose and intention on campus. I really had a community, I really had this thing that I was so heavily involved with, you know, with food insecurity on campus, or really basic needs on campus and ensuring that people had access to everything that they deserved, and the university that when I graduated, I was like, I wanted to take a step back from it, because I think I needed it. But I also lost my sense of purpose in that and you know, it changes from being at UCLA to who am I in the city of Los Angeles? Who am I in the state of California, who What am I doing as a citizen or as a person?


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  35:52

I’ts hard to manage that.


Savannah Gardner  35:53

It was. It’s really hard, it was really, really hard, especially because I mean, it’s not like a situation change, you know, I’m able to work more on it, because I don’t have class. But it’s not like I’m not, things don’t magically change once you graduate. Because graduating is so important, or was so important to me and my family that it was, I didn’t think much after it. I just knew I needed a break. And I deserved one. And I wanted to take one for myself. I farmed in Hawaii, I stayed at a farm in Hawaii for a month, on a coffee farm, which is awesome, but kind of, I think I’m kind of finally coming out of being in this point post grad that I wish I was taught a little bit more about or just kind of mentored a little bit more in and being like it can be confusing to not have as much of a purpose as you did when you’re a student, but that that’s also really necessary to find what you love to do.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  36:43

So, as you transition, is there any challenge or problem that’s sort of hovering over you that you want to continue to really work on and grapple with? What is it that you’re going to take with you in terms of this food justice?


Savannah Gardner  37:01

My involvement in food justice, and community justice on campus and for students with families, was really pivotal for me, in order to be able to learn, you know, how things happen on a system wide level, or how things happen systemically, people don’t have access to food and isolation. You know, it comes with your basic needs and housing and your education opportunities. And, you know, your access to healthcare and tons of other things, transportation and whether or not you know, the city of Los Angeles is accessible to you, depending on can depend on whether or not you could afford a bus for an Uber, right? So I don’t think if I had as much time really sitting in food justice and being able to kind of see or learn about how food justice is social justice and community justice, and that they’re not really separable, and that they’re one in the same. It kind of gave me the knowledge I needed to want to pursue and learn more about other types of social justice, like environmental justice, or education justice.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  38:03

Yeah, you’re really touching on the fact that food I mean, the food system itself has so many intersections with justice, starting from how it’s grown,  to prepared, delivered and, and eaten and then discarded. So which part of that sounds like you’re interested in a lot of points? Well, not too many, never too many, especially at your at your stage. I think at your stage, you know, you’ve got to sort of discover, right, this is the time and it is uncertain when you have this these sort of transitions. It’s common to feel that way. So I guess one question is where do you start seeing yourself hovering in that sort of line of food systems for justice? And then the other is, what kind of advice would you give others who are entering UCLA with, you know, interests in areas of wanting to do good, and make the world a better place?


Savannah Gardner  39:04

I think I see myself moving really in towards an environmental education lens, simply learning about CalFresh made me embrace the fact that my family was on CalFresh. And that knowledge empowered me to then be a change maker. And I think I have the responsibility to kind of pass that baton. So I see that as kind of maybe my next step, but also just learning my relationship with the Earth more. And that kind of comes from the production end of food justice or side of food justice. And that’s why I went to Hawaii and farmed, you know, I wanted to be able to see a food system, outside of urban farms in LA, really be able to see a community make their own food. And learning more about that


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  39:49

It had that feel being in that Hawaii farm land.


Savannah Gardner  39:53

It was amazing for a lot of reasons. I think it also showed me though, that there’s so much more I have to learn, you know. I’m gonna spend my lifetime learning and I think my advice to whoever wanted to do this work  is that they already can, they already have the ability to be a change maker whether or not it’s they’re initiating it, but also that they will also spend their lifetime learning things. So to, you know, embrace themselves and be humble, and ask questions and also get off campus.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  40:29

What do you mean by that?


Savannah Gardner  40:31

You know, it just it becomes a bubble, it becomes kind of a self fulfilling prophecy, you go to school, you go to library or party, depending on what day it is. And then you go, you know, you go to the dining halls or back home to lunch, depending on if you’re commuting student or not. And I think, for me, it was really volunteering off campus and taking the bus in the city made me know that I had a purpose beyond I think that’s helping me postgrad knowing that like, I have a purpose beyond just university so that when they leave, they can see the university contextualized, like, within the wider community that we are UCLA, because we are of Los Angeles, and not kind of the other way around.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:10

Right? Especially us, such a large urban, university and a larger, one of the largest cities in the country.


Savannah Gardner  41:20

Yeah, you don’t have to leave Westwood  if you didn’t want to right? But  I think you would have a skewed picture of the city and what it has to offer, and what it does, then if you didn’t, right?


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:32

Yeah, those are really good points. Well, you know, Savannah, it’s just such a pleasure, I have to say, knowing you and seeing you grow and talking to you and feel like you’re really continuing to be, you know, evolving into somebody who has and will continue to make a difference. Certainly have done it on campus and you see wide and I feel that I can’t wait to see your next chapter in your life. It’s going to be incredible.


Savannah Gardner  42:00

Thank you. Oh, my gosh, yeah, I think I’m really blessed to have had spaces on campus that have supported me like HCI has, or you know, like CPO as any other part of the Community Programs Office that is helping  people and spaces that have supported me, and given me kind of what I already had, was like the power of believing in myself and in the work that we do.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  42:26

Right on


Savannah Gardner  42:26

Yeah, thanks Wendy.


Dr.  Wendy Slusser  42:34

Thank you for tuning into UCLA live well. For more information about today’s episode and the resources mentioned, visit our website at healthy ucla.edu backslash live well podcast. Todya’s podcast was brought to you by the Semel healthy campus initiative Center at UCLA. To stay up to date with our episodes. Subscribe to UCLA live well on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, get to know us a little better and follow us at healthyUCLA. If you think you know the perfect person for us to interview next, tweet your idea please. Have a wonderful rest of your day. And we hope you join us for our next episode as we explore new perspectives on health and well being.

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