Tag Archives: Good Food for the Common Good

Professor Shares Hidden Costs of Eating Habits

By Judith Boogaart

[Note: This is the third post by guest blogger, Judith Boogaart, who helped cover the Hope College Critical Issues Symposium event while I was at the Taste of Greenmarket in New York City last week.]

In presenting his paper “Animal Welfare and Global Sustainability: Eating as an Act of Christian Discipleship” as part of the “Good Food for the Common Good” symposium at Hope College on Oct. 7, Matthew Halteman was quick to point out that the issue of animal welfare is of concern to anyone (no matter what, if any, religion or philosophy they subscribe to) who seeks justice for oppressed human beings, wants to avoid unnecessary animal suffering, and strives to live sustainably in a time of environmental crisis.

The paper’s focus was on animals used for food—56 billion per year, not including fish, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Farming this many animals and fish is “depleting land, grain, water, fossil fuel and biodiversity levels at an unsustainable rates” and is affecting human life as well as environmental stability. Since deciding what to eat and where to purchase food are things many of us can control, changing our eating habits in this area could have a significant positive impact on humans, animals and the environment.

Halteman contends that since eating is a communal activity, the convictions of just a few people can spread, as friends and family come to see that eating more intentionally can be “morally and spiritually invigorating—as well as delicious, nutritious and cost-effective.”

“Eating compassionately” means different things to different people. Halteman described a continuum from reformism and agrarianism (dealing with the way animals are farmed) to vegetarianism and veganism (the way people choose to eat). However these “isms” may differ in details, the common ground is the realization that industrial agriculture results in “serious moral and practical problems” (see FAO’s 2006 report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”).

The cost to humans of our current eating habits is high, says Halteman. Overconsumption of animal products is related to diseases that put a strain on our medical system and public health costs. Current industrial agricultural techniques are damaging our land, air and water supply and forcing family farms out of business while providing only low-paying jobs with poor or dangerous working conditions in return. Continuing on this path will mean that the rural poor will lose their land and livelihood, the urban poor will no longer be able to afford their grain-based diet, and the middle classes will continue to consume food that causes increased health problems.

Whether we can change the world on a grand scale or not, compassionate eating has its own rewards, says Halteman: appreciation of the interrelatedness of the natural world, solidarity with the poor and disenfranchised, increased compassion for all sentient life, increased personal health, and the development of a tighter-knit community as we share good food together. A worthy beginning, I would say!

Focusing on Good Food with Bryant Terry and Joel Salatin

By Waltraud Beckmann

[Note: This is the third post by guest blogger Waltraud Beckmann, who attended Hope College’s Critical Issues Symposium, “Good Food for the Common Good,” while I was at the Taste of Greenmarket in New York City last week.]

Bryant Terry: A Conversation About Creative Cuisine

During a morning focus session on October 6, Bryant Terry, who had been one of the two keynote speakers for the symposium, addressed a smaller audience and responded to questions.

Bryant spoke about his activism, inner city food deserts (stores with nothing but processed staples), his work and the programs started in New York  (Be Healthy, Healthy Moms), and successful programs in other parts of the country (such as Will Allen’s Growing Power in Milwaukee). He also talked about his book Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen (co-authored with Anna Lappé), the online Grub hub called Eat Grub , and his new book Vegan Soul Kitchen (VSK): Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine.

Bryant’s active role resonated with the student audience and he encouraged them as they asked questions to become involved.

Grub Parties, a trend expanding around the globe, are all about healthy thinking about food: planning, preparing, and sharing. And the food does not (or, as he said, should not) come from Whole Foods but rather local providers. (Try LocalHarvest.org to find farmers near you.)

Here are some other resources Bryant Terry mentioned:
Community Food Security Coalition

Joel Salatin: Local Food to the Rescue
Joel Salatin, the other keynote speaker at the symposium, also spoke on October 6 at an afternoon focus session with a smaller audience.

While Joel’s keynote address was full of philosophy and rich images of his farming environment in Virginia, his talk on Wednesday focused on the components necessary to create a successful, transparent, accountable local food system.

He presented six components, each equally important to make up the “whole of a pie.” As he went through the list he gave examples of the negative influence of government and its regulations and norms as well as positive local grassroots developments.

Production Practices – ethical white-collar farmers, symbiotic, high-tech, high-touch, aesthetics

Processing – packaging, overcoming government regulations and constraints, the food police, discrimination against small-size farmers

Marketing –farmers are not good at it, telling the story, need for learning to communicate

Accounting – essential, more than basics and skills farmers are known for

Distribution – breaking down the hurdle created by large food chains and government regulations; some efforts are underway such as the “school bus” example ( i.e., selling from a school bus, offering cooking lessons from a school bus), metropolitan buying clubs, CSA (limited choice)

Patrons – partnering, developing culinary art, emphasizing, promoting seasonal eating

Joel’s response to a question from the audience about government regulations took up much of the remaining time of the session, although he shared many personal accounts of others who have dealt with government intervention, requirements for regulations and corporate influence.  This quote by Joel Salatin sums up the session: “Entrepreneurial spirit is held back by the food police.”

“Eating in Place” Makes the Case for Local Food Supply


By Judith Boogaart

[Note: This is the second post by guest blogger, Judith Boogaart, who helped cover the Hope College Critical Issues Symposium event while I was at the Taste of Greenmarket in New York City last week. For her previous post, check out “Local CSA Farmers and Members Share Thoughts at Hope College Symposium.”]

Drawn from interviews with people as varied as college professors, store owners, food editors, farmers and farm market patrons, the documentary “Eating in Place” explores the issue of eating locally and whether this model is sustainable in West Michigan.

The film highlights many reasons for the recent interest in changing to a local food supply network:

Social Justice – Is access to healthy, nutritious food a right or a privilege? Advocates say everyone should have access to good food.

Economics – In a global market, food is merely a commodity, with no way to preserve food identity. Local food economy is an act of survival, by keeping resources in the local area and letting consumers know exactly what they are eating.

Environment – Many industrial farmers, who only see the land from ten feet up on a tractor, no longer know the land. They don’t know the natural ecological techniques for growing healthy food and preserving the soil, and are at the mercy of dangerous pesticides and chemical fertilizers to produce their crops.

Health – We start out on breast milk, the first “local food.” Continuing that by eating locally produced vegetables, fruits, grains, and animals means healthier people.

Taste – Will we change our food habits because it’s the right thing to do? Maybe. Because it’s better for us? Maybe. But if it tastes better? M-m-m…definitely!

Community – We are insecure when we are dependent on something we have no control over. The only way to survive is by caring for each other – for everyone, not just those who can afford it.

So, is local eating sustainable in West Michigan? West Michigan has great resources: bountiful land, sufficient water, good climate and growing season. But according to Professor David Dornbos of Calvin College, we need a tricky balance in three spheres to be truly sustainable. Environmentally, can we produce local food in a way that causes “no harm?” Economically, will local food producers be viable as businesses long term? Socially, is the surrounding community sufficiently engaged in this arrangement?

For our health and the future of our local economy, let’s hope so!

Local CSA Farmers and Members Share Thoughts at Hope College Symposium

By Judith Boogaart

[Note: This is the first post by guest blogger, Judith Boogaart, who helped cover the Hope College Critical Issues Symposium event while I was at the Taste of Greenmarket in New York City last week.]

One of the Wednesday morning focus sessions at the “Good Food for the Common Good” symposium highlighted Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in West Michigan. A panel discussion, “The CSA Farm Experience,” featured Lee Arboreal from Eaters Guild CSA in Bangor, Anja Mast from Trillium Haven Farm in Jenison, and Kristen and Noah Livingston, CSA members from Holland.

Arboreal says his concept of the word “community” in Community Supported Agriculture has changed over time.

At first he saw it as a contract between “me, the farmer–you, the eater,” but now he sees it as a broadening network of farmer, eater, biology and farm experts, seed and hardware suppliers, soil, climate, the animals on the farm, down to the very microorganisms in the soil. All are part of the community that produces healthy food at Eaters Guild and other CSA farms.

As oil prices rise, Arboreal believes CSA farms will begin to outcompete the large monoculture farms that depend on petroleum products for transportation and agricultural techniques. CSA will become a solution to food problems in the future.

In 2001, after looking at what they were doing and why they were doing it, Anja Mast and her husband decided to create what they felt was missing in their lives by starting Trillium Haven Farm.

Her experience was similar to Arboreal’s. In the beginning it was “me and my,” Mast says, but she has come to see that CSA is really about connecting the members to their food, to the land, and to each other. CSA farming expands into the schools, the neighborhood and the region to promote a worthwhile experience for the family.

Mast shares with CSA members her “spiritual practices of cooking, eating and gardening” and views food choices as “ethical and spiritual decisions.” She would like to see the CSA model grow beyond the current 20% of people in West Michigan who are willing to invest the time, money and dedication needed to provide healthy and nutritious food for themselves and their families.

Many people cite a lack of time as an impediment to buying, cooking and eating healthy food. “What is so important,” asks Mast, “that you would sacrifice your health, family, local economy and the environment for ‘convenience’?” Good question.

Noah and Kristen Livingston encouraged each person to take the time to consider the goals, dreams and values that are important to them, and make food decisions in line with those values.

Making wise food choices is not always easy, they say. Kristen pointed out that college students, for example, may find it difficult to find the resources and means to prepare healthy, nutritious food. “Don’t do it by yourself,” Noah advises. It’s important to find others with similar desires and work together. The Livingstons use CSA memberships, the farmers market, u-picks and growing their own food in their yard as ways to obtain healthier food.

The panelists and participants at the symposium represent a growing number of people who are living deliberately, evaluating their lifestyles and choosing the things that make for health and wholeness. Visit these CSA websites. Better yet, visit the farms! Become part of a community that learns and works together to make better food choices and improve the quality of life.

Joel Salatin’s Ballet in the Pasture

By Waltraud Beckmann

[Note: This is the second post by guest blogger Waltraud Beckmann, who attended Hope College’s Critical Issues Symposium, “Good Food for the Common Good,” while I was at the Taste of Greenmarket in New York City on the very same day. (For her first post, check out “Bryant Terry on Good Food for the Common Good.”)]

The second keynote address at Hope College’s Critical Issues Symposium, “Good Food for the Common Good,” was Wednesday morning, October 6. And Dimnent Chapel was full again with people eager to hear about healthy food and healthy farming. The keynote speaker, Joel Salatin, believes in a systemic ethical framework for farming, living, and eating. Known for his farming practices at Polyface Farm–a successful, small-scale, pasture-based farm that raises healthy people, animals, plants and soil in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Joel has been featured in the movie, “Food, Inc.,” as well as Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. A self-proclaimed “Christian-Libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-farmer,” he is a well-known author and charismatic media personality in the cultural conversation about food and the environment.

In his address, “Ballet in the Pasture,” Joel took the audience to his farm in words and slides, demonstrating how each part of the farm, the environment, as well as each animal, are partaking in providing a cycle–a natural and native template, each depending on each other as well as enhancing each other.

Joel showed that, by using high-tech methods and materials, as well as creative choreography, sensitive and smart farming with a philosophy of local outreach can outdo–and is superior to–the industrialized system of the mechanistic monoculture approach.  His world is about allowing each life form to exist and co-exist with respect, while the industrialized world is about growing and turning it into gains faster and cheaper, regardless of consequences–humans and their health, animals and their well-being.

For more about Joel Salatin, check out this video on YouTube.

Bryant Terry on Good Food for the Common Good

By Waltraud Beckmann

[Note: While I was at the Taste of Greenmarket in New York City last week, I asked a couple of guest bloggers to cover Hope College’s Critical Issues Symposium, “Good Food for the Common Good.” Waltraud Beckmann is one of them, and she checked in with Bryant Terry to hear his keynote address on October 5. The following blog post is her account.]

Hope College’s Dimnent Chapel was filled the evening of  October 5 with about 1,000 people–students from the college and many people from the community–to hear Bryant Terry, food justice activist and author, who kicked off the Critical Issues Symposium as keynote speaker by talking about good food and food rituals, preparing food, cooking food, and serving it to many of the attending  Hope college students.

One does not go to hear Bryant Terry; one goes to experience him. He is not a lecturer, he engages.  (No wonder the daughter of a friend of mine asked me to pick up a copy of his book and get it autographed since she is in Alaska.  “He is one of my heroes,” she said.)

 What a wonderful thing to be: a food hero. How important and necessary to impress changes of thinking about, using, and eating food.  Like a lot of young  people (and older people), Bryant Terry began to drift over to the teenage mode of embracing processed food and fast food from an upbringing of healthy eating and positive attitudes toward food with his grandparents until, one day, he heard the song “Beef,” which stopped him in his tracks and determined his future and current direction of interest and activism.

Bryant Terry shared the various stages he went through to get to where he is now–more than an activist, a promoter of healthy food. As he said, “Good Food for Common Good”, is a very appropriate symposium title. It represents what he shared as being important to live fully–including rituals (sharing libations and ancestral memories), symbolisms, reflections, and singing (such as the song  his grandmother would sing while cooking).

And he did cook for us, right there in the chapel. 

It was a very special and meaningful experience, seeing him prepare, cut, cook, and serve a simple vegan dish. And the students ate it all up.