I just began teaching “Food & Society” for the second time at Bastyr University (just north of Seattle in Kenmore, WA). This course is inspired by similar courses introduced at Stanford by Christopher Gardner and at Yale by Kelly Brownell – both of whom generously shared their respective course materials to help me get started last year.
My Bastyr version of “Food & Society” is a nutrition course designed to give students a broader perspective of nutrition, exploring how what we eat is influenced by biological, psychological, sociocultural, political, economic, ethical, and environmental factors. We read books and view films by contemporary activists from what is commonly called the grassroots social food movement. Books like Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, Marion Nestle’s Food Politics, Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating and films like Super Size Me and Food, Inc. We attempt to understand the complex interactions between food, nutrition, health, and the larger world in which we live and eat.
The fun part of the course is discussing what we read and view. I believe strongly that if we are to change the current food and nutrition paradigm we must learn to communicate with those who don’t share our worldviews. So I like to play Devil’s Advocate during discussions and encourage students to read Op-Ed articles that don’t agree with the assigned reading and viewing. I’ve done a fair bit of “preaching to the choir” and while this is a way to garner support and the strength to pursue often difficult changes, it isn’t the best way to expand a movement. (Plus, I’m not naive enough to think I have all the answers to the very complex problems we face related to nutrition and food!)
So, after many years of learning about these problems and trying to find ways to foster solutions on a local level back in Jackson, Wyoming, I am in a place with new opportunities to turn my frustrations into action. My students at Bastyr are not happy with the status quo related to food and nutrition either. More importantly, they are sharp, motivated and will ultimately end up practicing in nutrition and other health fields (the course is open to all students not just nutrition majors) all over the country. My hope is that this class will encourage my students to ask the hard questions, consider a variety of perspectives related to these complex issues, and (best case scenario) take action toward changes.
“Be the change you want to see in the world”
– Mahatma Ghandi (1869-1948)