You are what you eat.

I’ve heard this all my life, but never paid that much attention to it. This saying always brought to mind cartoon images of human-sized bananas with arms and legs, or smiling, anthropomorphized versions of broccoli and tuna fish. What it really means that we are what we eat only sunk in recently, maybe even within the last year.

Most elementary school children can tell you that in order to get a seed to grow into a plant, you need to expose it to water and light. These are vital to its survival, growth, and eventual development into a food source. But the plant also needs to be nourished by minerals and nutrients in the soil. If the soil a seed is planted in is nutrient-poor, the seed will require inputs (fertilizers) to grow. Organic gardeners and permaculturists tell us to feed the soil and invest in a long-term way to feed the world, instead of feeding a plant with artificial fertilizers that run off into our waterways and cause imbalances in ecosystems.

When we harvest the fruit of the plant’s hard work and then eat it, our bodies break down the cells of the plant and harvest the nutrients it’s accumulated. These nutrients not only feed our bodies the calories we need to work and play – they are the building blocks of our skin, our eyes, our brains. Our food choices affect our weight, our abilities, our strength and endurance, the diseases we face, and even the intelligence capacity of our children.

We create ourselves by what we choose to feed ourselves. And, as you can see, not only are we what we eat, we are also what our soil eats.

On the other hand, you could say that we create the world by what we choose to eat. Our food choices affect ecosystem health, how harvesters and factory workers are treated, the health of farm workers, which foods are grown and sold, how humanely animals are treated, and even how much carbon dioxide and methane are released into the atmosphere.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about food lately, as we’re working on a new course that addresses the connections and implications outlined above. This course (as of yet unnamed!) challenges us to look at our roles as not just consumers of food, but also as creators – of food, of systems, and of the world we want to live in.

For those of you who loved Menu for the Future, this course offers an opportunity to dig deeper into the complex issues surrounding food. The new course will also be six sessions, with sessions exploring food systems – from how agriculture contributes to climate change and how climate change affects global food supply, to food justice and food politics issues, to the health of our bodies and the health of ecosystems. The course will draw upon podcasts and video clips as well as our usual articles and suggested resources  in order to nourish inspiration and discussion. The new course will also include action plans to help inspire action around — and long-term investment in — creating the world by what we choose to eat.

Our curriculum team is working hard to design the course as I write – and we look forward to updating you with continued information as we progress! Please plan on digging deep this fall with NWEI’s newest guide – taking us all one step closer to creating the world we wish to see.