Blog: Faces of CELA with Kristen Lowitt

Blog posted by Pelly Shaw, CELA Communications Intern

What is your role, and how long have you been with CELA?

I’ve been a member of the Healthy Great Lakes Advisory Committee since late 2020.

What inspired you to get involved in environmental policy?

I work at Queen’s University –  I’m a faculty member at the School of Environmental Studies, and I’m a researcher, so a lot of my work is oriented around questions of building sustainable food systems and looking at food systems as a lens to talk about climate change. I look at agricultural practices, food production, and social equity. I really love doing the more participatory/action research projects. I had some exposure to that earlier on, doing my Master’s degree, and really saw an opportunity for research that involves partnerships with communities. Instead of just writing about something or publishing something, thinking about how it contributes to policy and where changes can be made that communities might want to see. I’m inspired to use research as a tool to gain understanding about environmental problems and to work with communities to inform policy.

How does the health of the Great Lakes relate to the health of food systems?

Recently I’ve been looking into fisheries around the Great Lakes and understanding how healthy ecosystems relate to that. I’ve been looking into Great Lakes fishing communities that depend on those ecosystems for their livelihood, health, nutrition. What I’ve found is that healthy nutrition often contributes to healthy communities and more sustainable food systems. Many small fishing communities and Indigenous communities in Ontario are dependent on and tied to the health of the Great Lakes as part of their sovereignty and their food system.

What do you think is Canada’s biggest environmental challenge today?

When thinking about any environmental challenge, whether that be climate change or access to clean water or green space, I think equity is really important. It tends to be that more resource-dependent communities and marginalized communities bear the burden of a lot of environmental problems. They are also more likely to experience the realities of climate change first, so I think for me I would really like to see questions of social equity and environmental health interlinked. That’s something that I think is starting to happen in the environmental movement, but I don’t think we’re there yet. Black and Indigenous communities are definitely leading the way in that movement.

If you had to pick one environmental policy that was the first step to solving the climate crisis, what would it be?

I think policy connections around reconciliation. I’d like to see progress around reconciliation and Indigenous stewardship as a way forward. In Canada specifically, I’d like us to recognize Indigenous agricultural methods and also acknowledge treaty rights on a legal front. Then internationally actually upholding the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenousr Peoples meaningfully.

When you aren’t doing research or activism work, what do you like to do?

I play piano, so that’s something that I enjoy. I have a baby grand piano that has been travelling around the country with me over the last ten years. I got it in Newfoundland and then I brought it to Manitoba and now it’s back in Ontario. I love cooking as well. Recently I’ve been making a lot of soups. I started making sourdough bread with my sister. Around the holidays we had a virtual Zoom cooking class, so that was really fun.