Spring 2023

Class Act

Photo by Michael P. King


Gwen Kelley BS’22 learned to cook by her mother’s side, amid the scents and seasonings of Thai curries, vegetable lasagna, and spanakopita. Those experiences encouraged her to relish new tastes and global cuisines. And they made her certain that the path to preventive health begins in the kitchen — with delicious home-cooked meals.

Kelley’s belief led her to CALS, where she majored in nutritional sciences and earned certificates in Chicana/o and Latina/o studies and global health. Her classwork helped her connect the science of nutrition with broader global and social issues. “Between the STEM side of nutritional sciences and the broader social justice and environmental focus of global health, I feel I have received a well-rounded education from UW–Madison,” says Kelley, who graduated in December.

What is STEM?

It stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.

Her zest for food justice flavored her life outside the classroom as well. During her sophomore year, Kelley joined Slow Food UW. The nonprofit organization serves 200 meals per week to students, staff, and community members. It also works with South Madison-based programs focused on food access and education for people of many ages.

As a “Family Dinner Night” intern, Kelley planned, cooked, and served evening meals weekly, with most ingredients sourced from local farmers. The next year, she transitioned to working as Slow Food’s codirector for dinners. By fall 2021, she had become the organization’s co-executive director.

On Monday nights, Slow Food offers meals on a pay-what-you-can basis. “We play an important role in food access, along with several food organizations on campus,” Kelley says. “We know food insecurity exists on campus, and it’s important to provide access to warm, nutritious food. It’s also great that people can come sit at a table with others in a community-based setting to share a meal and conversation.”

When the world went virtual during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelley took to the fields. She tended broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and other crops at Troy Farm, an urban, certified organic operation just off campus. “That was really important to me — to get outside and feel like I was doing meaningful work and having a direct involvement in the food system,” she says. “It’s one thing to talk about it, but to actually help grow the food was an inspiring experience.”

She also gained new perspective during her internship with the UW Office of Sustainability, where she served on the Social Sustainability Coalition, Green Labs team, and Food Sustainability Working Group. One of her favorite tasks was assisting with monthly “Amplifying BIPOC Voices in Sustainability” events.

What is BIPOC?

It stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

“All together, the work I am doing shares similar motivations: Make sure all students have access to good food, highlight the relevant voices in the environmental movement who face the disproportionate effects of climate change, and focus on equity and inclusion throughout,” Kelley says.

And her work has been meaningful. “Gwen has become a leader at the Office of Sustainability and in the UW–Madison campus community — someone who leads by example and draws others to the cause,” says Tim Lindstrom, the office’s student intern program manager.

Now that her time at UW is done, Kelley plans to continue her studies in urban planning and sustainable development. Her immediate goals: transform the front and back yards of her family’s Minnesota home into native plant prairie and continue to find new ways to fill plates.

“There’s such a unique food justice environment in Madison,” Kelley says, “I’m thankful for the connections I’ve formed, and I’m excited to bring my passion for food justice back home to Minneapolis.”

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