Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Creating Space for Engaging Conversations about Food

By An Nguyen '16

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.
-       Elsa Schiaparelli
Providing food at college campus events is nothing novel. It’s how college administrators incentivize students to stop by a lecture, a panel discussion, a book reading, an art exhibit. Unfortunately, full schedules give students minimal time to eat three times a day let alone cook. So it’s no surprise that Dinner With Foodies, a Changemaker Hub and Office of Sustainability sponsored event, offered dinner on a Thursday night to students. However, when they entered the 4th floor of the Student Life Pavilion, the usual stacks of pizza boxes were nowhere to be seen. Rather they were greeted with freshly made falafels, skordalia (garlicky mashed potatoes), yalandjai (stuffed grape leaves), pita bread, grilled eggplant, and Greek mountain tea. Plates from the SLP and reusable Changemaker Hub-branded cups were also available. With the phrase “Love food, not waste” projected on the big screen it was evident that this was no ordinary campus event but rather a sit-down dinner. A dinner date. A dinner date with foodies to be exact.

            Formally invited to the event was Beau Broughton, the San Diego Director of the Humane League, Laura Yamaguchi, a community organizer from Mid-City CAN, Dr. Jonathan Wadley from the USD International Relations/Political Science Dept., and Sam Eller, a third year USD student and fellow changemaker. At the event, students were able to have personal and honest conversations about what they were enjoying at the moment: food. These conversations weren’t merely about food’s taste, aesthetic, or convenience. No. These conversations over dinner were much more interesting. Issues of food justice, sustainable eating, and food education were all on the table, no pun intended. In order to have meaningful conversations, students were divided into small groups and were dispersed all along the SLP 4th floor, led by one of our four food enthusiasts or foodies.


            Dr. Jonathan Wadley became Jonathan for the night, separating his academic self from his more relatable self. He and his group sat down on the carpet area while talking about the ethics of eating meat and dairy products. In other settings, it might be unsettling to talk about the harrowing plight of farm animals especially in factory farms, but at Date With Foodies, students, omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, and everyone in between, were all ears. Students opened up about their own personal views about eating animals for substance.
            Beau Broughton and his group, among many things, talked about how the media has perpetuated the prominence of meat in the American diet. Students also expressed their disgust on how mainstream media use the sexual objectification of women as a tool to push for a more meat-filled diet. You don’t have to go much further down the hill to see a Carl’s Jr. franchise with life-size cutouts of photoshopped models eating burgers in an overtly sexual manner.
            Laura Yamaguchi alongside with four other community resident leaders led a conversation about food justice on the local level. Students learned about the City Heights community and the unmet dietary needs in local high schools, especially for Muslim students who adhere to a halal diet. Students learned that food justice is not just about food, but about people and communities as well.
            Lastly, Sam Eller led his group into conversations about ethical eating when dining others who have different viewpoints on food. Eller also educated students about sustainability initiatives on campus, like our composting program.
           
Despite hectic schedules that don’t allow students and faculty to enjoy food, let alone talk about it, Date With Foodies gave the USD community a space to talk about something as intimate and controversial as food. During closing time, students shared about how these genuine conversations have emboldened them to act and collaborate with one another to address food injustices on and off campus. In a time when animal agriculture is one of the top contributors to environmental degradation and climate change, in a time when global food waste and global hunger are rampant simultaneously, in a time when our national food policies allow big corporations to heavily commodify food instead of treating it as a human right, in a time when factory farm animals endure cruel treatment that would never be inflicted upon household pets, conversations like the ones during Date With Foodies should be the norm not the exception.

In order to be a campus that develops “ethical and responsible leaders committed to the common good” (Ethical Conduct, USD Core Values), USD, as a collective, needs to address food injustices locally, county-wide, state-wide, and beyond. This can be overwhelming, but talking about these pressing issues with full stomachs, open minds, and good intentions is a good place to start.

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