SESYNC Postdoc Varsha Vijay recently participated in the Bakers Against Racism initiative, a virtual bake sale designed to raise money for causes fighting against systemic racism. As part of her efforts, Varsha used her baking talents to create special treats that she sold to her neighbors, friends, and colleagues. Below, she shares more about how she got involved and why this initiative is important to her.
Q: How did you hear about the Bakers Against Racism Bakeshop initiative? And what about this effort inspired you to get involved?
VV: I am an avid home cook and baker and saw the initiative on some social media accounts. The campaign, started by Washington, DC area pastry chefs of color (https://www.bakersagainstracism.com/), is a global, virtual bake sale with proceeds going to social organizations combating racism. I was inspired by the idea of working together with bakers (professional and home bakers) to raise money for these important causes.
In this recent moment of reckoning, an important aspect for me has been to recognize the role that I can play and the role for others. For that reason, outside of the work I do as a scientist, I wanted to spend my personal time contributing to organizations that are on the ground making change on a daily basis. However, I have a fairly limited ability to donate money myself. By donating my skills, time, and ingredients, I was able to raise $425 from a two-day bake sale. This is just a tiny drop in the bucket of the total impact of the global bakesale, which raised approximately 1.8 million dollars! It really shows what can happen when many people come together around a common goal.
Q: Why did you select these particular organizations to donate to? What about their missions speaks to you most?
VV: I was excited to use this opportunity to highlight organizations that I think have large impacts at the intersection of DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice) and the environment. Through my work and experiences, I feel a particular connection to a few issues central to this area that I wanted to highlight—those are broadening access to public lands, creating more diverse and equitable conservation efforts, addressing inequitable access to food and sustainable cultivation, and addressing land rights and cultural sovereignty.
The organizations I chose, Outdoor Afro, Soul Fire Farm, Black Family Land Trust, and Urban Indigenous Collective are wonderful examples of organizations working on these issues. The bake sale offered an opportunity to not only raise one-time donations but also to raise awareness in our community about the work that these organizations are doing. I hope that some or many will continue supporting them beyond the bake sale.
Q: As a socio-environmental scientist, why do you think it’s especially important right now to support organizations working to address environmental justice issues?
VV: I am a conservation biologist by training, and I know that successful efforts to conserve biodiversity at all scales depends on inclusive efforts that respect multiple viewpoints of valuing natural resources and practicing conservation efforts. Communities that are traditionally underrepresented within the fields of conservation often have unique cultural practices or perspectives that can help better address the challenges of today and tomorrow if we are to halt biodiversity loss.
From the personal side, I’m a human being, a woman, a POC, and all of these inform my view and hopes for the future of our society. Transformative change is necessary for a more just and equitable society, starting with the work of these organizations and many others like them. So, I engage in these efforts because it's an opportunity to join who I am as a scientist with what I believe in as a person. I’m not shy about wearing my heart on my sleeve. I was lucky to share this with my professional community and receive so much support!
Q: What is your favorite thing to bake?
VV: My favorite thing to bake is anything that I make for the people I love. I recently baked my sister’s wedding cake and I felt so lucky to have been trusted to do it!
Q: Will you participate again?
For more information on the organizations mentioned above, please visit their websites:
Outdoor Afro – Promotes black leadership and access to conservation and public lands
Black Family Land Trust – Works to secure land tenure and assist in conservation easements and sustainable use practices in the Southeast
Soul Fire Farm – BIPOC-centered community farm improving food access and providing training in sustainable farming techniques for farmers of color
Urban Indigenous Collective – Advocacy focused on acknowledgement of indigenous rights and accessible and affordable health and wellness services to reduce health inequities