Hungry for Change

Dandelion Flower

This post relates to Week Six of Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability, a discussion course offered though the Northwest Earth Institute. Readings featured this week were written by Christian Schwagerl, Mark Bittman, Jonathan Bloom, Roger Bybee, Lisa Abend, Raj Patel and Anna Lappe. This week (actually a few weeks ago) was our last week, and was quickly followed by a celebration potluck a week or so later.

A few weeks ago, this six-week discussion course ended with readings and questions about waste, better ways of managing our food system and working toward change.

Our group, by this time, had settled into a comfortable rhythm together. Honest conversation came easily to us by now, and we’d long since established a common philosophy that “it’s all good.” Tiny, magnificent, global, local, personal or community—all efforts are good efforts. We are an accepting group.

Our eyes were opened, once again.

Mark Bittman got us thinking about how much energy goes into our food. Realizing that a one-calorie Diet Coke requires 2000 calories of energy to produce is a good reminder of why avoiding processed, packaged food is a sound choice for the environment. Eating close to the ground and choosing simple foods just has to be a good thing for our bodies as well as the planet.

Thinking about food waste, first on a global scale and then on a personal scale, embarrassed us all. How can this be, that so many people are hungry while 209 to 253 pounds of food is wasted every day in North America and Europe? That’s enough to feed us all for nearly two months. How is it that we take this so lightly? This is not about somebody else; it’s about the small and large piles of food each end every one of us throws away. Taking actions (or re-committing to actions) like shopping wisely, making stock, composting, cooking appropriate portions—just being conscious of the issue—will move us each steps closer to zero waste living.

Just how hungry for change are we? That is the question that faced us in our last discussion. After reading and talking about the truly impressive, activist work of people like Will Allen of Growing Power, urban farmer and educator in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and other inspiring changemakers, we were asked to think about what we could do in support of a healthier food system.

We were, at first, silent on this question.

The course book suggested follow-up activities like organizing community events or starting a letter-writing campaign. Still, we were silent.

Oh, we do want change. That’s not the problem. In fact, as individuals, we’re already making important changes in our lives and in our communities. Teaching, writing, growing food, supporting good organizations, buying good food—we are living by our values. This course has prompted us to make even more changes and, perhaps, allowed us to be more confident in our beliefs and able to speak out even more. Our work together bolstered our resolve to continue those efforts, refining them over time.

I had mixed feelings, at first, about our reticence to commit to a broader goal. But then I realized that we had, in fact, created something just as important.

We’d created community.

Just a couple of weeks after our last discussion, we gathered for a celebration potluck. It was there that I realized (quite literally) the fruits of our labors. Talk flowed easily, as we savored a rich variety of homemade dishes. Discussing our creations was a big part of dinner conversation—not just the recipes, but the sourcing of ingredients, in colorful detail. We loved our food. Our commitment to the values we examined in this course was palpable. Together, we enjoyed the simple good feeling of community around shared values.

Wouldn’t you know that, just a few days later, we made plans for a second potluck?

Only good things can come of this.

I urge you to consider starting a Northwest Earth Institute course in your town. For a weekly commitment of a couple of hours of reading and a couple of hours of meeting, the benefits are huge. Besides, maybe your course will lead to a sense of expanded community for you, too. 

14 responses

  1. Wonderful! I’m hoping to start community dinners with locally sourced food and music this summer. There is something so satisfying about going back to the basics of real food and sharing it with friends and neighbors. I’ve shared this post on my FB page linked to my blog. Thanks!

    • Nice! The more I think about it, the more I realize that simply cooking, serving and enjoying good food together is an enormously important first step. Good luck with your dinners; I look forward to hearing all about them.

  2. Fabulous, thoughtful, thought-provoking post, Eleanor. Wow you do so much in the arena of wise food choices and sustainability – humbling for me to read about your initial thoughts on “I should do more.”

    Thanks for this series!

    • Thanks, Diane. Food is such a common denominator. If we can create a better understanding of food’s role in creating health (our own and the planet’s), we could make a lot of progress. I try to do my piece, but there’s a LOT to be done!

      • Eleanor – I truly DO aspire to be more like you and Tammy – from so many aspects. Eating more healthfully, more consicously, more sustainably. And all the while with great gusto – eating food that TASTES good, too! I’m grateful for your blog and for YOU!

  3. There is a lot of work to be done, however, as a colleague once told me, we’re not alone and aren’t expected take it on by ourselves! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with Hungry for Change these past weeks.

  4. Pingback: The Local Beet: Chicago » Weekly Harvest Blogs Here and Yonder

  5. Pingback: Hungry for Change: How We Grew Community «

  6. What a lovely takeaway from such a course. I feel like it’s tough to look these issues squarely in the eye and not come away saddened or disheartened. With new friends and energized seems ideal, and inspiring. That could be a really powerful community. I wonder how successful a virtual course of this would be–it seems like it would lose something, but maybe the advantages to scheduling and accessibility would outweigh the drawbacks. Potlucks, firmly on-site though!

    • Thanks, Margaret. Gathering around the table, in person, brings so much more into the mix. Some people speak up more than others, and I think that could even be more of an issue over the phone. But, if holding it virtually is the best option for you, then I’d give it a shot. It’s the sharing of the process of learning/understanding together that’s important.

  7. This is an excellent article, Eleanor! Thank you for sharing… and you’ve gotten my mind rolling on how much am I willing to do to evoke positive change… and maybe a potluck is a brilliant first step!

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