Charlotte Gale, 21, Toronto
Engineers Without Borders
Everyone has a terrible cooking story from their youth to share, and Charlotte Gale is no exception—hers, however, belongs to a friend. “My dear, dear friend was telling me about how she was helpless in the kitchen… I thought she couldn’t be that bad, but she said ‘for dinner the other night I took some frozen peas and mixed them with peanut butter.’” It’s a funny anecdote, but Charlotte believes that the current generation’s disconnect from food is a serious problem. “Not knowing how to cook your own dinner—you think it’s just affecting you, but it’s not, it’s contributing to a culture of eating out, and throwing out food, and that creates more waste.”
It’s a complicated web of issues, but Charlotte maintains that we have to begin with better knowledge about feeding ourselves, and our local communities, before we can make an impact on the world at large. It’s because of her interest in food systems and sustainability that she became involved in her local chapter of Engineers Without Borders.
Originally interested in food back in high school, Charlotte prepared a paper on a documentary that focused on growing corn for ethanol. “I thought this was so cool, corn is the future!” Fast forward to an environmental science class, and it was time for another project—this one on ethanol production and its detrimental effects on the food supply. “I started doing my own reading, and there are so many complex connections between food and society. I saw ways food was not just a big problem, but a way to solve social issues as well.”
Over the past two years working with EWB, Charlotte has focused on building a community of food-savvy students. She and her co-lead, Sarah Neuenhagen, instituted a new Community Learning Initiative, partnering with six different organizations in Toronto that provide meal programs, direct trade opportunities, and advisory councils working to change city policy. A different student volunteer works with each individual organization to both help them grow and learn from them.
“There’s a lot of potential to build community between EWB and the organizations who work locally in Toronto, by having students work in partnership with them,” she says. “At the same time, there’s an opportunity for personal growth with our student members, since they can see what social change is in various settings while also practicing critical thinking in a volunteer role.”
In her fourth year at the University of Toronto, Charlotte hopes to make a career out of work in international development or food education within schools. She adds, however, that you don’t need to make it part of your career to make a difference. “You don’t need to be a champion of food, you can make small changes that matter.” Perhaps beginning with learning how to defrost those peas before you mix in the peanut butter.
Engineers Without Borders works internationally in partnership with existing initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa to increase opportunities for growth in small businesses.