A few weeks ago, in our Stewardship in Action class, we covered a topic that everyone enjoys – food! To be more specific, we learned about food justice. We began the unit with the following quote from Michael Pollan:
"Food is not just fuel. Food is about family, food is about community, and food is about identity. And we nourish all of these things when we eat well."
While "food justice" may sound like a bit of an overwhelming topic to cover, students did not hesitate to jump right in. Throughout the week, we examined a variety of food systems – from the urban agricultural success in Detroit to the local ingredients used by an indigenous chef – and how power and justice are related to these systems. Additionally, students were able to take a look at food as an expression of culture as well as a way to create change and build community.
One way that students delved more into food justice was to research the topic themselves. During class, they selected organizations in their home states that are currently taking steps to provide communities with healthy food. One example was the Somali-Bantu Community Association of Maine. This organization gives resettled Somali-Bantu people in Maine resources and access to land, as well as technical training and seeds. This particular organization stood out to our class because it highlights how important it is for a community to have not only access to resources but also the support needed to thrive.
Leading up to the Thanksgiving season, highlighting our cultures and communities was – and still is – especially important. An article by Sean Sherman, also known as the Sioux Chef, brought a critical perspective to our class. I, along with many students, did not realize before reading his article, "The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I've Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday," how utilizing local and historically pertinent ingredients helps bring the indigenous tradition back into the food we eat.
To further emphasize that knowing where our food comes from gives it a much deeper meaning, lead Stewardship teacher and Director of Conservation Programming, Eleva Potter, invited students over to her apartment for a meal. Dubbed "Wild Game Wednesday," this gathering allowed the students to share their personal experiences with food traditions. Eleva's food tradition happens to be hunting for a deer each year. At our meal, she served a tasty chili made with venison. She described how the deer was hunted and brought to our table. Getting to know the whole story of our food at this meal was a fascinating process.
An outcome of this unit was to help students become aware of the critical role food plays in their world. Exploring the ways that food fuels us in our lives and striving to maintain our traditions through the food we consume is an important part of being an environmental steward. We hope to prepare them to share their experiences, think critically about food justice, and advocate for others as they go forward.