Connecting Food with Our Curriculum - Summer Seminar Update

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Debra L. Petersen (Communication & Journalism)

Seventeen UST faculty and staff colleagues had the good fortune of participating in the 2011 Faculty Development Summer Seminar Connecting Food and Our Curriculum led by Elise Amel (Psychology and Environmental Studies) and Tim Scully (Communication and Journalism). While this title accurately reflects the goals and objectives of this seminar that has transformed my Public Speaking class and has influenced other classes across UST, the title of my essay reflects the sharing and networking that began during the seminar and continues to enrich the UST community.

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

James Beard

Tim and Elise chose Menu for the Future as the source of our foundational readings. The essays and articles in this handbook worked well as a jumping off point for our discussion of a variety of food and sustainability issues. Seminar participants also recommended books, articles, films, websites, and art exhibitions that have impacted their thinking, activism, and pedagogy. Guest presenters shared resources for hands-on learning including potential Service-Learning projects and volunteer opportunities. Students from Christina Meyer-Jax's Health and Human Performance nutrition class met with us in the UST Community Garden, where they described cultural and lifestyle influences on their desire to eat in a healthy and sustainable manner.

My participation in the Food Seminar provided me with the inspiration and resources to make food issues and sustainability the foundation of my fall 2011 Public Speaking course (COJO 100). In the course syllabus my rationale for this focus includes excerpts from Elise Amel’s essay, “ What’s Food Got to Do With It?” (Synergia, February 2011), in which she stated, “Understanding our food is a very basic but essential aspect of the journey toward sustainability” and “Food. It’s personal. It’s communal. It’s celebration. It’s comfort. It’s ritual. It’s fuel. It’s also…unsustainable.”

The four speeches that my COJO 100 students are preparing and presenting this semester focus on food issues:

Introduce A Classmate Speech: This speech set the tone for our food focus. Students interviewed a classmate and then introduced them to us by sharing their responses to food-related questions, including:

  • Do they grow or raise food?
  • Are they connected to a family farm or farmers’ market?
  • What is a favorite food memory?
  • Are their holiday meals connected to their ethnicity/culture?
  • Have they worked or volunteered in organizations that are attempting to provide food?
  • What are the world’s greatest food challenges?

“Making a Difference” Speech: In their second speech, students researched an individual or organization that is attempting to improve the quality and/or quantity of food in the United States or abroad. Topics included First Lady Michelle Obama, Hmong farmers, and chef Jamie Oliver.

Informative and Persuasive Speeches: My twenty-four students represent a wide range of majors including Health and Human Performance, Marketing, Biology, and Finance. They are currently researching and preparing to give two connected speeches on food- related issues and/or controversies connected to their major field of study. Their informative speech will lay the foundation for their persuasive speech on topics including over fishing in our oceans, food deserts in urban and rural areas, how to improve the quality of school lunches, and, whether organic foods are significantly better for our health and for the environment.

An extra credit option allows students to volunteer with an organization attempting to make positive changes in food safety, availability or security, and to create a persuasive speech in which they attempt to convince others to volunteer with this organization.

Thanks to an Environmental Studies grant we are enjoying learning about healthy and sustainable snacks, including Minnesota-grown apples.

Thus far, the food and sustainability focus in COJO 100 has been successful and I plan to continue it in future semesters.

Connecting UST Faculty and Staff
Each year I find less time to re-connect with colleagues from other departments and programs and I have fewer opportunities to meet with new colleagues. One of the great joys of the Connecting Food and our Curriculum Seminar was time for fellowship and learning, including our last day field trip to Open Farms in Belle Plaines, where we toured the two-acre organic garden that provides non-profit organizations such as Open Arms with fresh produce for the meals that they deliver throughout the metropolitan area.

Our time at Open Farms ended with a healthy and nutritious lunch created by UST Catering Services. In a beautiful re-purposed granary overlooking a native plant prairie and a meandering creek, we shared final thoughts and brainstormed collaborative efforts. Since this beautiful June day, the impact of our Seminar has been felt across campus, including: six departments and programs co-sponsored a film series that included the films “Food Inc.” and “King Corn”; students, faculty, and staff learned how to cook fresh produce in the Student Dining Room; and, five Seminar participants joined together to purchase an entire steer from Prairie Horizons Farm as a way to eat organically. On-going collaborations will positively impact the Sacred Arts Festival and Asmat Art Collection activities.

Connecting Food and Our Curriculum was one of the most professionally and personally enriching experiences in my twenty-two years at St. Thomas. My thanks to Faculty Development for sponsoring this seminar and to Tim and Elise for all of the "extras" that made this such an enjoyable and enriching learning experience.

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