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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.

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.

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 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.


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’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

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.

Tomorrow, November 15th, is the deadline to take advantage of our offer to Hungry for Change course organizers! If you convene a group and place your order by tomorrow, we will give you (the course organizer) a free copy of the course book. Just give us a call if you are ready to go!

*As a special preview of one of the articles in the new course book, below is a quote from Vanessa Barrington’s The Ecology of Food, which you will find in Session One, The First Bite.

“…Ultimately, I think we need to look at food and nutrition ecologically. Each nutrient is part of a functional system and each food that we ingest is a part of the body’s functional system. Beyond that, the food we eat is also part of our larger socio-economic and cultural system around food. When I shop for food I think a lot about the different levels of nourishment in it. Does it nourish my heart, my soul? Does it nourish my pleasure centers by tasting good? Does it nourish the relationships I have with the people I’m eating with? Does it nourish the environment, or cause harm? Does it nourish the people who produce it, or exploit them?

To take an ecological view of food is to understand that the physical, cultural, social, environmental, and economic results of ingesting a food or nutrient cannot be predicted or understood in isolation. Foods interact with one another, in the body, around the table, and in society—all of which contribute to their overall ability to nourish… Next time you’re shopping, instead of thinking about whether the food in your cart is going to provide you with the proper balance of Omega-3s and 6s, sufficient antioxidants to prevent cancer, or enough fiber to lower your cholesterol, think about how it will taste, who you will eat it with, how you will prepare it, where it came from, who produced it and if it’s in season. In short, think about whether that food is the right thing for you to eat right now. The marketing of functional foods is not just annoying because it takes advantage of consumer confusion and fear around nutrition, it’s also dangerous because it assumes we don’t have our own holistic understanding of food and, in the end, dis-empowers us to make our own decisions about what to eat…”

Food for Thought:
1. Do you agree with Barrington’s statement that we need to look at food and nutrition ecologically? Why or why not?
2. When you are food shopping, what filters do you use? (Omega 3s, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, packaging, seasonal, local, organic,
nourishment, cravings, family, etc?) Would you like to use other filters?
3. What is one food choice that you make or could make to nourish the environment more and cause less harm?

As you know, NWEI launched it’s newest discussion course, Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability, this month and we are thrilled to see the response thus far! We are also excited to offer course organizers a free copy of the new guide when organizing your group this Fall. Place your group’s order before November 15th by calling us and simply mention this blog post and we’ll send you a free copy of the guide along with your group’s books. (*Please note: you must place your order for your group in order to receive your free copy.) We hope you’ll join the hundreds of others who are getting ready to sit down and dig deep into how to make more sustainable and ethical food choices.

Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability explores the true meaning of the phrase “you are what you eat.” In four to six sessions, 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 live in. Each session includes readings, short assignments and accompanying discussion questions that address 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. Many sessions also include video clips, podcasts and websites to deepen the learning experience. Hungry for Change helps participants commit to lasting change by developing and sharing personal Action Plans with each session.

Give us a call at 503 227 2807 for more information, or visit our website. You can also read NWEI Curriculum Director’s blog post on the new course here.

After much deliberation, our new six-session food systems course has a title! The curriculum team is busy putting on the finishing touches and in the next few weeks, Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability will be rolling off the presses. Hungry for Change is the perfect course for those of us who know that our eating choices are important, but want to delve deeper into the intricacies of our food system.

From climate change to the rights of Florida tomato farmers to the global geopolitics of food, Hungry for Change examines how the availability of food and its production, distribution and consumption are the workings of a deeply complex system that is affected by and affects all of us. Some have wondered the differences between Hungry for Change and our other food course, Menu for the Future. On these differences, Curriculum Director Lacy Cagle writes:

“Whereas Menu puts the focus on the “you” in our relationships and roles in food systems, Hungry puts the focus on the systems. We really wanted to emphasize the complicated interconnections among politics, health, social justice, ethics, and environmental impact in food systems, while still looking at how we contribute to and what we can do to change these systems.

There’s also a difference in the writing styles selected. While more of the readings in Menu are narratives and stories (i.e. authors like Barbara Kingsolver and Wendell Berry), more of the readings in Hungry for Change are a bit denser and expository (i.e. authors like Lester Brown, Daniel Pauly and Marion Nestle).”

Hungry for Change also includes Action Plans, a great way to help participants commit to lasting change. From podcasts to interactive websites, our new course provides excellent additional resources for those who are Hungry for more. Check out the Hungry for Change flyer here! You can expect a late September arrival – stay tuned for more details!

For more information or to pre-order a copy of the book, you may call our office at 503.227.2807 and speak with any member of the outreach team.

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