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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.

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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

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