What’s Food Got to Do With It? Find out in Book Lunches this Spring!

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Food. It’s personal. It’s communal. It’s celebration. It’s comfort. It’s ritual. It’s fuel. It’s also…unsustainable.

Pause for a minute and consider the milk you had with your breakfast this morning. Do you know where it came from? Where was the dairy farm? How many cows were there? What does their diet consist of? Are they given bovine growth hormone and antibiotics? Who is the farmer? What wages did the farm workers earn?

We know a lot about what we eat; we count calories, look at nutritional labels for type and amount of fat, we strive to follow the latest recommendations for daily dairy, fruit and vegetable consumption. What we don’t tend to think about is where our food comes from, how it is grown, who grows it, who picked or processed it, and how it got to the market. Part of the convenience we so highly treasure is NOT needing to think of these things; however, the way we source our food has critical implications for economic, social, and environmental sustainability and this complex food system is relevant to many of the courses we teach on campus.

Understanding our food is a very basic but essential aspect of the journey toward sustainability- an aspect that can be simultaneously interesting, enlightening, depressing and empowering.

Americans expect inexpensive food. We spend proportionately less of our earnings on food than other developed nations (www.census.gov). But is it really low cost? What are the long term economic, human, and environmental costs and consequences of our current food systems? Consider, for instance, the dollar burger. How is the cost and availability of the dollar burger related to obesity and its myriad associated ailments, all of which have serious consequences for the cost of health care in our country? Why is the dollar burger sometimes the only type of food accessible to impoverished neighborhoods? How is the dollar burger related to undocumented workers and current immigration policy? How is the dollar burger related to contaminated and depleted watersheds? What are the opportunities to remake our food systems to improve health, and reduce social and environmental injustice?

Even from a purely economic standpoint, the full cost of our food needs to include that our government and industry spend (billions) on diabetes-related illness (www.cdc.gov), that our government spends billions on crop subsidies for corn and soy (www.usda.gov), and that the cost of related problems such as water and soil remediation, and immigration-related challenges are borne by the taxpayer as well.

Michael Pollan says we vote three times a day with our fork. To me this means that we have a say in the future of our food, how it’s grown, and where it comes from.

If you’ve wanted to know more about food systems there will be several opportunities this spring to engage in learning, thinking and discussing. Please join us for a 3-session, lunchtime discussion group. No prior knowledge is necessary. Faculty Development will be providing a food reader for each participant along with a delicious, thoughtfully prepared lunch each meeting. Each participant will read about X pages every two weeks in preparation for each discussion. We will have experts on hand, not necessarily to guide discussion, but mainly to answer questions and suggest additional resources.

Look for announcements about other food-themed activities taking place this spring. We’ll be discussing ways to engage with various aspects of sustainability at Faculty Development’s February 18 Fabulous Friday. The Office of Mission reading group, open to faculty, staff, and students, has chosen to discuss Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma during their three spring gatherings. We hope to screen the movie Fresh in coordination with HECUA. Also, CILCE is looking for faculty to help build a new service learning cluster of courses (similar to the HIV/AIDS work with Open Arms) to address major food issues in the Twin Cities, such as food deserts.

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