Navina Khanna is co-founder and Field Director of Live Real, a national initiative dedicated to amplifying the power of young people shaping a radically different food system through policy and practice. Her commitment to creating equitable, ecological food systems runs deep: As an educator, community organizer, and policy advocate, Navina has spent over ten years working to transform local, regional, and national agri-food systems–from field to vacant lot to table. She has also trained dozens of parents, teachers, and teenagers to organize their own communities for food justice.
Navina holds an MS in International Agricultural Development from UC Davis, where she developed curriculum for the first undergraduate major in sustainable agriculture and food systems at a Land-Grant University. She also has a BA from Hampshire College, where she focused on using music and dance for ecological justice. She is also a certified vinyasa yoga teacher and permaculturalist, and loves to play outside. A first generation South Asian American, Navina’s worldview has been shaped by growing up–and growing food–in the U.S. and India.
In spending time with Navina Khanna, you’ll notice right away her light, her warmth, and her depth of knowledge and commitment to the food justice movement. At the age of 17, after a three-week backpacking trip in the untamed wilderness, she became unexpectedly conscious that the practice of modern agriculture is the crossroads at which people can actually dominate or “control” the earth. This path of consciousness awakened a sense of profound responsibility in stewarding her relationship with nature and food.
Navina was born in the United States, and at the age of nine she returned with her family to live in India for six years. In straddling two cultures, Navina has developed a keen sensitivity and flexibility in viewing situations with a bigger lens that spans, and includes, time, place, and culture.
In her early 20s, Navina spent time in India working with farmers that utilized traditional methods of planting and harvesting. She was contemplating a move back to India in order to continue this work. In 2002, she attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC). There she met a number of farmers from all over world, and when she asked them how she could best be of service to them and to the movement, they advised her to go back to the United States and help shape US agricultural policy because those policies heavily influence, and largely set, all international agriculture practices and policy. Humbled by a deep sense of kuleana (a native Hawaiian word that is best translated as “privilege and responsibility”), Navina returned to the US and pursued her International Agriculture Development degree at UC Davis. Since then she has steadily worked towards bringing a more equitable food system (the ways and methods by which food is brought to the consumer’s table) into being.
“Food is a nexus point that is not only concerned with the environment,” said Navina. “It brings families and peoples together. It is how culture is passed on…Food is the most tangible way we relate to the planet.”
In our interview, Navina highlighted that the food justice movement encompasses land and water rights and their uses, workers’ inalienable rights, issues related to working conditions, climate policy, and issues and policies directly related to food consumers. She added, “Food justice is really about us reclaiming control of our bodies and our lives…the food justice movement is about all people having the right and the means to produce and procure food that’s good for people and our planet, and that tastes good.” It makes sense that food justice is so multi-layered as food itself is one of our basic needs. As Navina so aptly observed, “Food is one of the few things that fully engage all of the human senses when consumed. Every sense is touched.”
With our current food system, there are 50 million Americans who are “food insecure,” meaning that they have little to no access to their next meal or no way of nourishing themselves. Navina shared that everyone is hurt by our current food system, because we lack choice. She cited a 2007 study conducted by W.K. Kellogg that showed that only 2% of our food economy is considered green, clean, and fair. Some people are hurt more than others by our current food system, including low-income eaters, folks living near factory farms and affected by pesticide exposure, children/youth, folks of color, the aged, and folks vulnerable to immigration policies.
In 2009, Navina co-founded Live Real, a national initiative that encourages, advocates, and demonstrates transformative social change with a food justice lens. Living real is a multi-faceted lifestyle choice. One of the core values is respect—for oneself, for others, and for the planet. “If we lived by the principals of respect, there is no way we would or could have the food system we have now…I look forward to a day when ALL people have the means and resources to produce and procure food that actually nourishes themselves and our planet.” Indeed, indeed.
Here are some resources on food and food justice recommended by Navina: