Intentional and Non-Hierarchical Discussions of Food Culture and its Consequences

For our final project, my group chose to focus on soil. Initially, we had planned to organize an after-school event for local elementary students. Quickly we discovered that the process to clear such an event with the district would be lengthy and likely too bureaucratically complex for us to succeed in such a short period of time. Furthermore, the soils professor who we had hoped to speak at our event had a scheduling conflict for the day our event was planned. In the end, as a team we decided to scale back our expectations and come up with a plan that was reasonable, while impactful. Our group worked together remarkably well. Each peer brought enthusiasm, knowledge, and accountability to the organizational dynamic, which made planning the event not only relatively easy, but enjoyable as an experience. Having worked in groups where individuals were not always responsible, it was refreshing to see how easy collective action can be when participants approach organization with compassion, and passion.

Credit: Claire Kasinadhuni

In the end we scheduled a panel discussion at the University of Washington farm. One of our group members, Claire, made a fantastic poster which we distributed across campus, and another member, Yuki, made a Facebook event advertising the date. In the end, while not many people showed up given that it was Memorial Day, we were pleased to see how open and communicative our guests were. Everyone was eager to share their ideas, and learn about the impact of farming practices on soil. Each member of our group chose a different topic to present. My subject was modern farming as an extension of violent contemporary social paradigms, looking at soil additives as well as decreasing nutrient density in food to illustrate the material impact of our economic system on the planet. All the discussions stimulated lively conversation that encapsulated politics, agriculture, culture, environmentalism, and philosophy. Following our discussions we had our guests plan their perfect farm and explain it to the rest of the group, and led our guests in the planting of sugar snap peas. One guest later texted a group member saying how much he’d appreciated the opportunity to engage in conversation with others in the casual, safe environment we’d been privileged to host.

The goal of our project was to engage with the public on an issue often pushed to the periphery of the collective social conscience, in a space that would render the issues immediate and material: the UW farm. We understood as a group that a consequence of our social and economic structures includes the dismissal of food and food systems in the name of convenience, efficiency, and profit. In this sense, hosting an open, informative discussion of the nature and consequences of our current food paradigm radically upsets the reliance of industrial agriculture on its perception as normative—with intentionality we moved to create a non-hierarchical space where individuals could focus their understandings of food in the context of community. Each of our discussions had global implications, as well. My topic focused on capitalism and Enlightenment ideals that have largely produced and justified our current foodscape. Other topics included: runoff/erosion and fisheries health, soybean commodity chains and globalization, and sustainable agricultural practices.

4 thoughts on “Intentional and Non-Hierarchical Discussions of Food Culture and its Consequences

  1. Daniel James Van Den Handel

    Wow, this is a fantastic project that you were able to accomplish! You’re scaled down version of a project is still very impressive. You’re topic about farming on the panel is extremely thought-provoking and integrative. Planning your perfect farm is a fun way to get guest to engage with your subject. You were even able to make soil a part of the project by planting snap peas. It is a shame that more people could not show up since it was Memorial Day. I am not sure if the UW Farm does panels regularly, but if they do not then they should follow your model. They can use the UW Farm not only to feed people but shed light on issues that often are not in the forefront of people’s minds like depleted soils.

  2. Bunjinjargal Bayasgalan

    I wish I could have actually gone to this event and partaken in planting snap peas and discussing particular ideas on modern farming. I think that you and your group had an extremely successful and thought-provoking action project. I really enjoyed reading that your primary goal of the project was to get the community together and discuss the issues with the current food paradigm, instead of focusing on telling your audience what they should do to be more sustainable. From our projects, I have come to accept the fact that not everything we have planned may pan out the way we wanted, and that we may not have an exact answer to how one should change their behavior in order to be sustainable. There truly is no right or wrong answer and it becomes rather difficult to advocate a different way of living and consuming, when they may not even have a problem with their current behaviors. It seems that your project was able to bring some people in the community together to discuss the overall issues that are occurring, instead of focusing on a solution. I think that sometimes we need to just have dialogue with our peers about such topics instead of trying to offer a solution right away. Collective action can take some time, but we must be patient and also perseverant.

  3. Devon Kristopher Mcbride

    Blog Response 3:

    Andrea, it was great reading about your project because it seems your group and my own found a similar conclusion about the productivity of small group discussions. This quarter I have also been in the Urban Farm class at the UW Farm and we have had a lot of discussions on the topics your group did, soil and farm planning. I have learned both of these areas are immensely more complex topic’s than I would have thought, though I had not thought much about this before. I found it interesting that you were able to connect large concepts like the global economy to smaller, more specific things like the soil at our feet and relate that to students who attended your panel. I have found it difficult to successfully explain concepts from this course to people outside of it and get them to care, so perhaps the method from our projects to have small group discussions is the more effective approach. I believe another aspect which made your discussion successful, which you outlined in your final paragraph, was creating a non-hierarchical space for people. When discussing food, economics, and other societal issues, people’s backgrounds cannot be ignored and their influence should be recognized without privileging some over others.

  4. Lucas Garcia

    Blog Response 3:
    I had a wonderful time reading about your group’s Action Project! As you must know, in terms of growing food, soil is the world’s most valuable yet underappreciated resource. I admire that you all focused on bringing attention to soil as a way of highlighting the impact of malpractice of poor soil treatment that plagues modern agriculture. The majority of people in society do not even give a second thought to soil and how complex a resource it is, oftentimes dismissing it as plain-old “dirt”. I wish I had known about your panel as I would have definitely stopped by to participate. I am however, interested in what the soil erosion topic would have been like to explore in a blog post. Soil erosion is a serious threat to our species and I am all ears when it comes to exploring avenues for methods of diminishing the looming threat of losing all of our topsoil for food production.


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