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NWEI Staffer Liz Zavodsky and OCI Chef Instructor Ramona White

NWEI Staffer Liz Zavodsky and OCI Chef Instructor Ramona White

Oregon Culinary Institute Chef Instructor Ramona Lisa White has begun what is now an ongoing commitment to using the NWEI course books Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability in her ongoing culinary arts classes. “The students really responded positively to the readings,” says Ramona. At least 45 students have already completed her first course using the NWEI course books, and her second course began this week. Student Michael Gent noted “I thought the readings were helpful. I have noticed my general attitude regarding (food) ethics have changed over the course of the class.”

At NWEI, we believe the solution to many of Earth’s biggest challenges lies in the power of collective change: by taking action in our own lives and inspiring the people around us, each of us contributes to a world of impact. Over the last 20 years, NWEI has helped more than 140,000 people from around the world make small steps that lead to big changes for our planet. Thanks to the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, Northwest Earth Institute is pleased to offer 1,000 free discussion course books to Portland-area students during the 2012-2013 school year. Oregon Culinary Institute has been one of the most active participants in the Spirit Mountain Community Fund Grant.

More than 300 colleges and universities throughout North America have successfully used NWEI course books in a wide range of academic disciplines and institutional settings. The student-led curriculum encourages critical thinking and active learning, and helps students find “Aha!” moments about the way they live, work, create and consume.

Oregon Culinary Institute student Tom Kelch reflected that “whether the readings were sad or uplifting didn’t matter because I learned things I never  thought about before.” Emelio Sansone noted that “each reading served very valuable lessons and I am making a great deal of effort to apply them to my life whenever possible.” Other students in Ramona’s class cited the NWEI readings as “eye opening” and “useful not only in our career life but in our personal lives too.”

Cover Hungry for Change front onlyLast semester the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois (which has been offering NWEI courses since 2008) offered Northwest Earth Institute’s Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability course to a diverse group of students and staff. Rory Klick, Assistant Professor of Horticulture and Department Chair, taught the course and had great things to say about the ongoing collaboration between College of Lake County and the Northwest Earth Institute. “The new curriculum was great,” said Rory. “The students loved the readings, and we had some wonderful discussions.  I ran the course as a half-semester class for 8 weeks (2 hours each week so 1 credit hour), and we added a field trip to a local organic farm and then did our final exam as a “sustainable food potluck” in addition to the 6 units of the workbook.”

The course had a mix of traditional students, four staff members and two instructors from the College’s culinary program as well as a Philosophy professor. “It was a great mix of folks,” she says. “The articles really captured people…For example, the article about inhumane treatment of tomato picking laborers in Florida really got to my students; some were ready to go down there themselves!  The class session turned into an incredible discussion about labor practices for migrant workers in the US, and what we do or don’t want to acknowledge about how our produce got to our tables…As I teacher I know that these are the sparks I want to set alight in my students.  The NWEI curriculum helped provide the tinder to foster those sparks.”

Professor Klick plans on offering another round of Hungry for Change this Fall and plans on reaching out to the culinary program instructors to see if they would like to co-list the course for their students.

Sustainable-Food-WordsOur friends at The Food Tank recently shared the following 13 resolutions to change the food system in 2013. We think the NWEI community should join in! As we start the new year, many of us will be working to improve health and effect new changes in our food system. The Food Tank proposes that a broader collection of farmers, policy-makers, and eaters need new, bigger resolutions for fixing the food system. As Food Tank co-founder Danielle Nierenberg says, “We have the tools—let’s use them in 2013!”

Here are The Food Tank’s 13 resolutions to change the food system in 2013:

1. Growing the Cities:  Food production doesn’t only happen in fields or factories. Nearly one billion people worldwide produce food in cities. In Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, farmers are growing seeds of indigenous vegetables and selling them to rural farmers. At Bell Book & Candle restaurant in New York, customers are served rosemary, cherry tomatoes, romaine, and other produce grown from the restaurant’s rooftop garden.
 
2. Creating Better Access:  People’s Grocery in Oakland and Fresh Moves in Chicago bring mobile grocery stores to food deserts giving low-income consumers opportunities to make healthy food choices. Instead of chips and soda, they provide customers with affordable organic produce, not typically available in their communities.
 
3. Eaters Demanding Healthier Food: Food writer Michael Pollan advises not to eat anything that your grandparents wouldn’t recognize. Try eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods without preservatives and other additives.
 
4. Cooking More: Home economics classes have declined in schools in the United Kingdom and the U.S. and young people lack basic cooking skills.  Top Chefs Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, and Bill Telepan are working with schools to teach kids how to cook healthy, nutritious foods.
 
5. Creating Conviviality: According to the Hartman Group, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. eat meals alone. Sharing a meal with family and friends can foster community and conversation. Recent studies suggest that children who eat meals with their families are typically happier and more stable than those who do not.
 
6. Focus on Vegetables: Nearly two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, leading to poor development. The World Vegetable Center, however, is helping farmers grow high-value, nutrient rich vegetables in Africa and Asia, improving health and increasing incomes.
 
7. Preventing Waste:  Roughly one-third of all food is wasted—in fields, during transport, in storage, and in homes. But there are easy, inexpensive ways to prevent waste. Initiatives like Love Food, Hate Waste offer consumers tips about portion control and recipes for leftovers, while farmers in Bolivia are using solar-powered driers to preserve foods.
 
8. Engaging Youth: Making farming both intellectually and economically stimulating will help make the food system an attractive career option for youth. Across sub-Saharan Africa, cell phones and the internet are connecting farmers to information about weather and markets; in the U.S., Food Corps is teaching students how to grow and cook food, preparing them for a lifetime of healthy eating.
 
9. Protecting Workers: Farm and food workers across the world are fighting for better pay and working conditions. In Zimbabwe, the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), protects laborers from abuse. In the U.S., the Coalition of Immokalee Workers successfully persuaded Trader Joe’s and Chipotle to pay the premium of a penny-per-pound to Florida tomato pickers.
 
10. Acknowledging the Importance of Farmers: Farmers aren’t just farmers, they’re business-women and men, stewards of the land, and educators, sharing knowledge in their communities. Slow Food International works with farmers all over the world, helping recognize their importance to preserve biodiversity and culture.
 
11. Recognizing the Role of Governments:  Nations must implement policies that give everyone access to safe, affordable, healthy food. In Ghana and Brazil, government action, including national school feeding programs and increased support for sustainable agricultural production, greatly reduced the number of hungry people.
 
12. Changing the Metrics: Governments, NGOs, and funders have focused on increasing production and improving yields, rather than improving nutrition and protecting the environment. Changing the metrics, and focusing more on quality, will improve public and environmental health, and livelihoods.
 
13. Fixing the Broken Food System: Agriculture can be the solution to some of the world’s most pressing challenges—including unemployment, obesity, and climate change. These innovations simply need more research, more investment, and ultimately more funding.

And a 14th: If you haven’t already, organize Menu for the Future or Hungry for Change this Winter and join in educating and inspiring people to act!

This semester students at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan are taking a Food Quest course led by Professor Tara Deubel. One of Professor Deubel’s key texts is the Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability course book from the Northwest Earth Institute. Read below for excerpts from an article just published about the students’ learning process:

In all its capacities, food has long played a role in human social and cultural systems. The consumption and preparation of food defines nations, unites traditions, builds families. And as the world has continued to develop and change, so too does the food industry and various food-philosophy movements.

The Food Quest, an anthropology course at Oakland University explores the ways in which humans produce, consume and relate to food in a global, cross-cultural perspective.

“Understanding the human relationship to food illuminates the relationship we have with our larger environment,” said Tara Deubel, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology. “From a global perspective, we need to address why people continue to die of hunger and malnutrition in 2012 when adequate food resources exist.”

“Locally, we need to ask similar questions about why many residents of Detroit are unable to access healthy food on a daily basis in an area now considered to be a “food desert” due to its lack of food resources,” Dr. Deubel continued. “It is critical to re-examine the local and global systems we have put in place and advocate more sustainable alternatives that encourage smaller-scale, local food production and more healthy eating habits.”

The course covers a wide range of topics including changes in human eating patterns, the globalization of the food industry, transnational food politics, debates concerning genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the organic and local food movements, malnutrition and hunger in developing countries, food rituals and eating disorders…

As they learn about the local and global impact of the food industry, several students have developed passions for the local and organic food movements.

“I would like to see the concept of urban gardening spread throughout Detroit and for more people to get involved and to start eating real food, not processed food from the gas stations and little grocers,” said Katherine VanBelle, a senior student majoring in Environmental Sciences. “I found it sad to hear that some city kids think food comes from a gas station. I feel that it’s reasons like this that make us one of the unhealthiest cities in America.”

For the full article, click here.

October 24th is Food Day, a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. If you haven’t already, consider learning more about sustainable food and taking action by organizing one of NWEI’s food focused discussion courses: Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability or Menu for the Future.

For more on the state of food in the United States, read Hilde Steffey’s Food Day Blog Post: This Food Day Remember Good Food Starts With Family Farms:

It is an exciting time when it comes to good food. Farmers and consumers are organizing locally and regionally, creating markets close to home via farm stands, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Farm to school programs are found in more than 12,000 schools, in every state in the nation. The U.S. organic food market continues to outpace conventional food sales. These are signs that there is a clear and growing demand for good food from family farms.

While these trends are promising, the largest, most industrial farms are getting bigger. By 2007, just 6 percent of US farms were producing 75 percent of agricultural product. Meanwhile, our small and mid-sized family farms continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Between 1982 and 2007, USDA numbers show a loss of 40% of farms making between $10,000 and $250,000 – an average of 353 farms a week! These are the very farmers and farms best positioned to grow and strengthen local and regional markets; but they’re also the same farms most threatened by failed policies that seek short-term gains and favor large corporations at the expense of public health, the environment, local economies and community well-being…

For the full post, click here.

This Spring, a group in Concord, New Hampshire has been exploring the challenging and sometimes frustrating world of resource depletion and the many impacts of food production on climate change and the environment through participation in NWEI’s discussion course Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability. This is the fifth post from the Nourishing Words Blog, where author and course participant Eleanor Baron muses on conserving water, sustainable cheese production and the call towards a plant-based diet.

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The people drawn to participate in our Hungry for Change group (perhaps predictably) are environmentally conscious by nature and are concerned about tending this planet for future generations. We come to the discussion knowing at least the basics and with a personal commitment to live our lives in alignment with the our values. Many of us do our best to stay up to date on emerging topics like climate change, soil depletion and the exploitation of the earth’s greatest aquifers.

Is that enough?

Once again, as we talked, the answer emerged. It’s important to keep learning and take action.

As an example, we talked about how we use water in our lives. We each monitor our usage, whether motivated by a city water bill, the level of water in our well or a general sense that water is a precious gift that should be honored as such. We don’t buy bottled water, we mulch our gardens well and take short showers. We’d each argue that we use less water than our neighbors.

But as we talked, we discovered more that we could do to conserve water. By the end of our discussion, we were considering setting up rain barrels other finding ways of catching water before it heads either down the drain or down the driveway. We talked about catching wasted water in the shower (before the water gets hot, that is) and reusing it to flush the toilet. We talked about using gray water to water plants or for some other purpose. One participant articulated her practice as “never letting water go down the drain until it’s done a job.” Our eyes were opened to a world of tiny practices that together would surely save a meaningful amount of water…

To follow this blog and to read more of this post, click here.

This week brings a fourth post from Eleanor Baron’s Nourishing Words Blog out of Concord, New Hampshire, where a group is participating in NWEI’s Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability discussion course. This post addresses Session Four of the course: Just Food, where articles deal with food’s complicated world of ethics and justice.

It’s easy to turn our attention away from the disturbing, messy and sometimes horrific side of food production. We protect ourselves from this perspective; the industry protects us as well. Indeed, it would seem to be in everybody’s best interest not to talk about these things. We wouldn’t upset one another, and we wouldn’t have to face difficult decisions.

How animals are treated, the working conditions of many agricultural workers, forced labor and paltry wages are all topics not often covered by mainstream media. Due to powerful lobbies, even our politicians seem not to care. The fact that those winter tomatoes northerners so innocently buy at the grocery store are possibly the product of human slavery in Florida—that’s information that would shock most people, if they took the initiative to dig a little deeper into the story of their food.

This course does just that. It urges us to dig deeper, consider more thoughtfully and discuss more actively the stories our food can tell us. More importantly, it asks us each week what we are going to do to change those stories. Northwest Earth Institute courses are all about personal action. Reading is the first step on the path to action; discussion is the critical second step. Hearing my thoughts spoken out loud, and considering the thoughts of others, makes me realize each week how important it is to do something. Whether it’s the simple personal act of not buying something, now that we know its story, or a more public act like picketing or taking political action—it’s all important work.

Each of us has power to create change. (*Please click here to follow Eleanor’s blog and to read the full post).

 

This week brings another update from Eleanor Baron’s Nourishing Words Blog out of Concord, New Hampshire, where a group is participating in NWEI’s  Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability discussion course. This post offers up reflections from Session Three: A Healthy Appetite. To follow Eleanor’s blog, click here.

Each week, we begin with an “opener,” offered by one person who shares a thought, a memory, an object—anything relating to our work in this course. It gets us thinking and talking. Beth, as an opener for Week 3, brought a bag full of packaged foods from her home cupboards, most of which were labeled “organic.” What we passed around surprised us all. One by one, we read the labels, revealing marketing claims, additives, chemicals and trans fats lurking in the fine print. The exercise left us all feeling a bit humbled, wondering what’s in the shadows of our cabinets and cupboards at home.

Our readings had primed us for talking about how our food choices impact our health and how packaging and marketing affects our decisions. Already an arguably conscious group regarding food choices, one by one we realized our weak points—what could stand closer scrutiny. We talked about our go-to comfort foods, the foods we eat without much thought at all and foods we’ve long ago given up. We talked about how we make food choices in the first place.

It’s easy, in this world of food awareness, to feel a bit smug in our choices. After all, we’re gardening organically, shopping at farmers markets, joining CSAs and striving to fill the cupboard with unpackaged, real, whole foods. With a few exceptions that we’re prepared to chock up as minor, we’re doing the right things.

But why? … (*To read Eleanor’s full post, click here).

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. ~ Mary Oliver

We’ve been following author Eleanor Baron and her blog Nourishing Words out of Concord, New Hampshire, where a group is currently participating in NWEI’s Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability, which explores food policy issues and the effect of global politics on food systems. Read below for musings on Session Two: Politics of the Plate. To prepare for the discussion, the group read articles by Lester Brown, Danielle Nierenberg, Mara Schechter, Marion Nestle, Daniel Pauly, Sandra Steingraber, Guari Jain, Eric Holt-Gimenez and Lucy Bernardini. To follow this blog and read the full post, click here

A few paragraphs into this week’s readings, I realized how little consideration I give to global issues related to food. My personal focus is just that—personal. My interests are close to home and I choose grassroots activities that will make a difference here. I’m conceptually aware of broader, global issues, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that they don’t touch my heart very often. The shifting sands of global politics and economics are not familiar territory to me.

I was not alone, I discovered. Most of us found these articles difficult to read: a bit tedious. We spoke of not feeling a personal connection to big issues like food insecurity on a national level. We were loosely aware of the resulting “land grabs” by wealthy countries, which buy up agricultural land in poorer countries to ensure their own country’s food far into the future. As a group, we realized our lack of knowledge of our country’s farm subsidies and how they relate to the real cost of food. We dived into the dizzying world of seafood, puzzling over what defines sustainable, and who defines it.

I was not alone in admitting that I look for simple rules; when a topic (like sustainable seafood) becomes overwhelmingly complex, I bow out. Skip the seafood. The more complex the topic, the more I look for the bottom line.

I was not alone in admitting that I look for simple rules; when a topic (like sustainable seafood) becomes overwhelmingly complex, I bow out. Skip the seafood. The more complex the topic, the more I look for the bottom line…(To read the rest of Eleanor’s post, click here).

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.” ~Wendell Berry

This week we are sharing a letter written to fellow Unitarian Universalists from Bill Sinkford, Senior Pastor at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Portland. As many of you may know, Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth is one of NWEI’s 30 organizational partners. Thanks to Bill and the hundreds of congregations who are putting NWEI programs into action in their communities!

A recent Yale study highlights a significant gap between what we as citizens say we value and the actions we take.  For instance – “76 percent say it is important to buy locally grown food, but only 26 percent ‘often’ or  ‘always’ do.”

I’d like to think that, as Unitarian Universalists, our values and myriad food choices are much closer in alignment. Many of us engaged in the reflective process leading to the adoption of the Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating last year. But even we have more work to do as we take this process deeper and broader.

How much thought have you given to the social justice implications of your food choices? Have you considered the environmental impacts of the food we waste? What are the real and potential impacts of our food system on wild lands here and abroad?

Shortly after I accepted the call as Senior Minister here at First Church in Portland, Oregon, I was introduced to the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI). Our church has used its discussion courses for several years and found them to be an invaluable resource. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that I was so impressed that I agreed to serve on the NWEI’s Board of Directors.

Recently NWEI released a new discussion course on sustainable and ethical eating titled Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability. Many UUs have used NWEI’s previous curricula to create awareness, action and common purpose on these issues. Hungry for Change ties directly to our UU Ethical Eating Statement of Conscience by exploring the social justice, environmental and health components of a food system shaped by our individual and collective food choices.  

A recent UU participant had this to say, “The Hungry for Change course book and the dialog served up a huge dose of reality, but at the same time gave me the skills to take action for a healthier environment, a healthier humanity and a healthier me.” We used the course at First Church this winter.

I recommend Hungry for Change as a resource for your congregation in taking its next steps. More than 130,000 people have tested the self-facilitated process of shared discovery, personal reflection and action. It might also help to know that Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) gains a bit of financial support with each course started. You can learn more about the course by contacting either NWEI or UUMFE.

 

We just learned about a blog entitled Nourishing Words, which recently featured reflections from a Hungry for Change discussion course currently taking place in Concord, New Hampshire. Read on for more musings on local food, gardening, healthy living and sustainability. Follow future Hungry for Change posts from this blog here.

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This post relates to the first week discussion of Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability. We have an enthusiastic group of eleven people participating in this series, and we were off to a fine start in our first week. Week One readings included writings by Andrea Wulf, Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, Barry Estabrook, Scott Dodd, Zoe Weil, Lisa Bennett and Vanessa Barrington.

Never heard of most of those writers? Neither had I—and that’s actually one of the things I love most about Northwest Earth Institute courses. They serve up ideas that I might never have otherwise encountered.

Our discussion circled around the idea of our own food traditions, both old and new. In our group, many of us grew up in the days of Campbell Cream of ______ Soup casseroles, the introduction of boxed cake mixes, lots of canned vegetables, Friendly’s “fribbles” and more. Beyond those childhood basics, our paths diverged. Some remembered gardens (or even farms) playing a role in their childhoods, some did not. Most of us experienced significant shifts in our eating as we moved into and through adulthood. Not surprisingly, since we were all drawn to participate in this discussion series, we’re all pretty thoughtful eaters today, and our traditions continue to shift.

I’ve often thought about how the food of my childhood shaped me (figuratively and quite literally) as an adult, and written about it a few times. Hearing other people reflect on their own food stories makes my own all the more interesting to me. I find myself searching the shadowy places of my memories for just a little more detail—one more bite of my food story. What DID my aunt pour all over that ham before it went into the oven? Where was that ham from, anyway? Did I like it? How about the strange pitchers of punch she’d prepare? What was tossed into that pitcher?

The Working Mom’s Eating In Challenge, by Lisa Bennett, got us thinking about what it takes to make it through a week without eating (or taking) out. The discussion sorted us out into roughly two groups: the planners and the “wingers.” Whether cooking for myself or for my family, I’ve always been the latter. Sure, about once a week I cook something in a big enough batch to ensure leftovers (usually soup), but that’s not a function of planning, by any means. Even when I was cooking for two, not much planning went on—although probably more eating out. I’m comfortable as a winger. Give me a grain and some vegetables and I’ll cook up a meal.

Barbara Kingsolver launched us into talk of the challenge of eating locally in January. A few years ago, the same group might have bemoaned all that we can’t have in January, but that seems to be changing. We’ve adapted by learning to freeze and store what we produce ourselves and local farms are rising to the challenge of feeding us throughout the winter. The boom in winter farmers markets here in New Hampshire is astonishing, as is the commitment of the hoards of shoppers who support them. We want this. We’re becoming more and more curious (suspicious?) about our food every day. Eating locally is still a challenge, but it’s getting easier. What foods would we all miss if we ate absolutely nothing from far away? You guessed it: coffee, tea, olive oil, citrus fruit…chocolate!

I’m encouraged by the softness of the self-imposed rules implied by our discussion. Indeed, many of us spoke of a need to avoid the all-or-nothingness of locavorism. There’s so much more to it than that, not the least of which is pleasure. Conscious eating, rather than hard and fast rules, suits me. Asking questions, finding answers and making thoughtful choices is worth so much more to me than turning away from the questions to adopt rigid rules.

The Indignity of Industrial Tomatoes, by Barry Estabrook, fired us up about Florida’s shocking tomato industry. Raised on chemicals and harvested long, long before ripe, “green tennis ball” tomatoes depend on ethylene gas to turn red. I’d read Barry Estabrook’s book Tomatoland a year or so ago, so I was beyond shock. It’s safe to say, I’ll regard store-bought tomatoes with suspicion—deserved or not—for the rest of my life. The discussion did bring up for me that ever-present worry that I’ll simply never know everything about the food I eat.

And that worry relates to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: the role of non-farmers in creating a better food system. A writer friend, who’s a subsistence farmer up in Vermont, writes beautifully about life on the farm. Life separate from the nonsense of big box grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and all the challenges associated with eating well in the city. So many of us yearn for that kind of independence and connection to the land. It’s easy to think (and I’ve thought this many times) that the “best” way to live would be to raise all my food myself. Therein lies the rub: I’m not going to do that. Many, many other people are also not going to do that. 

So, how can we all manage to feel good about who we are, and how we live and eat? I suspect the answer to that question lies in appreciating the complexity of the challenge. For me, there are many answers:

  • For the local farm where I get my organic vegetables to be successful, people like me need to commit to buying their products.
  • For my local food coop to offer more and more local, organic food—and to do that at affordable prices—people like me need to commit to shopping there as well as voicing our hopes for how the store will run.
  • To achieve the dream of living in a neighborhood with more than a scant handful of homes featuring vegetable gardens, I have to step into the front yard to garden more publicly than I might like.
  • I need to say no to those Florida tomatoes, California strawberries and continue to read and learn about food—where it comes from, who’s involved in producing it and what my purchase of it might mean to the environment.
  • I need to dive into food questions as I find them, and be willing to scratch around for answers. Where do those cashews I love come from, and what’s involved in growing them?
  • I need to continue to ask my local food coop to please label produce with state of origin, helping me and other shoppers to make more conscious food decisions.

The reality is that relatively few people these days are able to feed themselves from their own land. But that fact doesn’t leave the rest of us behind in the quest for a more viable food system. There’s plenty for us to do. We are not without power. Not as long as dollars buy food.

The Hungry for Change discussion guide nudges us gently to take action, and to consider the impact of our own choices on our lives and the world around us. One by one, we tentatively committed to an action for which we’ll be accountable to the group next week. We spoke of things like journaling about our food, going without white flour and sugar, trying to crack the breakfast cereal habit and shopping completely from the farmers market for one week. It’s kind of scary to voice a commitment, even a small one, to a group. Mine was to journal about my food for a week.

I’m grateful to the Northwest Earth Institute for courses like this one. I’m a naturally curious person. I read a lot. I have tons of information rattling around in my head all the time. Talking about those thoughts breathes life into them and hearing what other people are thinking teaches me so much—even about myself. More importantly, once I talk about what’s really important to me, I really do want to do something to bring about change.

There’s a lot of work to be done. Every bit of it begins with becoming aware of what’s important to each of us. That’s the first bite.

NWEI Curriculum Director Lacy Cagle just passed along this article from NPR, which states that every million dollars in sales through local markets supports thirteen jobs, versus the three jobs generated from every million dollars in sales by agricultural operations that don’t have a local or regional focus. All the more reason to get behind the local, sustainable food movement! For the full article by Allison Aubrey, click here.

“When we think of the farmers we know, we can count a lot of locally-produced food we’ve reported on, from unusual greens to pawpaws.

And when the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes their Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, what do they count? Jobs.

“Every million dollars in sales through local markets supports thirteen jobs,” USDA’s Kathleen Merrigan said in a conference call with reporters. This compares to three jobs generated from every million dollars in sales by agricultural operations that don’t have a local or regional focus.

To tout the growth of the local food movement, USDA has launched a slick, new, multimedia website that includes videos, photos and a map showcasing all the USDA-supported projects (think: loans and grants). Many are aimed at helping communities coordinate the sale of locally grown fresh food products from small and mid-scale family farms. Another goal is to support regional food hubs.

By positioning the initiative as a “jobs-creator,” Merrigan may be hoping to assuage detractors on Capitol Hill who have criticized Know Your Farmer as a program for the foodie elite that promotes organic and niche farming over conventional, larger scale operations.

“In the name of promoting local food systems, [USDA] appears to be prioritizing Rural Development grant and loan programs for locavore projects in urban areas, apparently at the expense of rural communities,” complained Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and John McCain (R-AZ) in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2010, after the program was created. The lawmakers point out that the vast majority of the nation’s food supply comes from these conventional, large-scale operations.

In an early version of the 2012 Appropriations bill, lawmakers in the House moved to de-fund marketing of the Know Your Farmer initiative. Even though there were similar concerns in the Senate, ultimately the program kept its funding. But USDA was told to give a status update. That’s part of what USDA accomplishes with this new, web-based Compass.

Even so, local food advocates are concerned the program could be cut out of the farm bill, set to expire this year.

The goal of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, according to USDA, is in part to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers. That’s us! What do you think, do small scale farms deserve financial support, a piece of the federal pie? Is the local food movement in your community changing the way you eat or shop?

NWEI’s New Hampshire based partner organization, Global Awareness Local Action, will be hosting Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability January 26th through February 9th, 2012.   Hungry For Change explores  the true meaning of the phrase “you are what you eat.” This discussion course challenges participants to examine their roles, not only as consumers of food, but also as creators — of food, of systems, and of the world we all share. Each session addresses the impact of individual food choices on a range of issues, including ecosystem health, the treatment of factory and farm workers, and the global economy.

G.A.L.A Study Circles are a great way to come together with other community members in an informal, yet inquisitive, atmosphere to deeply explore issues of social and environmental concern. The discussion courses provide an enjoyable, supportive setting in which to examine personal values and habits, engage in stimulating conversation, create meaningful community, and consider ways to take action towards creating a more sustainable future.

As a partner organization to NWEI, and the New Hampshire point of contact, G.A.L.A. can help your group get a Study Circle up and running by providing guidance, advice, assistance with press releases and promotional materials etc.  If you are in New Hampshire, contact G.A.L.A at 603-539-6460 or email contact@galacommunity.org

Congrats also to G.A.L.A for their recent grant to expand their Sustainable Home Makeover Program! More information to follow on this program that will be available nationwide.

The Northwest Earth Institute is excited to announce that Colorado Mountain College has become NWEI’s newest formal partner, and NWEI’s first formal higher education partner!

Colorado Mountain College has been using Menu for the Future in several courses over the past few years with positive feedback from students, hence a commitment to integrating both Menu for the Future and Hungry for Change into ongoing and future sustainable food related courses.

A perfect resource for CMC’s Sustainable Cuisine program, NWEI course books will be used in classes ranging from Introduction to Environmental Science, Food Politics, Policies and People, Introduction to Sustainable Cuisine, and Agroecology. The NWEI course books will also be used in CMC’s Bachelor of Arts Program in Sustainability Studies.

Colorado Mountain College serves nine counties in north-central Colorado. Each year, nearly 25,000 students take classes at CMC’s 11 locations and online. We look forward to serving faculty, students and staff at CMC in the years to come, and are grateful to be a part of inspiring young people to take responsibility for Earth in new ways!


I recently got to meet Jody Dorow, one of the authors and publisher of a fabulous book on the simple joys of eating and food: Tender. Jody attended NWEI’s North American Gathering and gifted myself and the NWEI staff with copies of this inspiring book in honor of our shared commitment to sustainable food. As book author Tamara Murphy says, “sometimes we forget how good simple things can be,” and this book takes us right back to the simple pleasures of the kitchen- as well as reminds us about the joys of connection to the land through farming or gardening.

The book has an associated blog, Farmers, Cooks, Eaters, which is full of inspiration and information pertaining to sustainable and delicious food. They recently profiled NWEI’s newest course, Hungry for Change, in the post excerpted below. For the entire post, visit their blog.

Farming, Butchers, Spices, Money and Gardening: What do they all have in common? You’ll know just a bit more about all 5 at the end of this post. We’ve got another collection of posts, articles, and stories that caught our eye over the last couple of weeks. Some helpful tips, some good news, some bad news… we’ve got it all…

Incredible Shrinking Farmland – “We’ve become a little casual about our attitude about farmland,” said Dennis Canty, director of the Pacific Northwest regional office of the American Farmland Trust (AFT). Farmland Trusts provide a sustainable approach to to preserving our land, our food and the health of our community, with PCC Farmland Trust serving as a great example of innovation and partnership.

Pizza is a Vegetable – At least congress thinks so. This is an excellent summary of the sad state of affairs that is the school lunch program in our country.

The Lost Art of Buying From a Butcher – I’m a big fan of A&J Meats at the top of Queen Anne here in Seattle and someone sent me this article about the rise of the butcher and why they are such a great resource. My big draw is the (much) better taste combined with the knowledge that I’m supporting a good farm. What I often forget until I get there is the skill and service that comes along with it. They tell you how much, what kind, and will cut it exactly to your liking. I’m a proud convert!

Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability – a six session course book exploring the interconnected nature of food systems and our relationships to them. Northwest Earth Institute has created course books with readings, short assignments and discussion questions on different subjects as a great way to help participants become more aware and commit to lasting change. This is the most recent course. A great tool for a neighborhood or work group conversation.

Gardening Is Good for You – I’m sure you knew that but this creative infographic breaks down exactly what you gain from growing at home. Burn calories, improve your home’s value and save money. Also, eat some of the best produce you’ve ever had! …

To read the full post and learn more about the book Tender, click here.

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