Monday, August 8, 2011

From moons to moos.

[Note: This is a reposting with minor alterations of my intro piece for The Naked Bear Blog, a blog put together by my students at Berkeley last spring, explaining how and why I got started in sustainable food systems. The student blog is not currently active, but there are some terrific and inspiring articles that you should check out!]

As a graduate student in planetary science – I study moons of Jupiter – I often feel out of place in undergraduate courses on sustainable agriculture or food journalism. On the first day of class, when we go around the room and students announce that they are majoring in resource management or environmental policy, I wonder if I really have anything to offer. I assume they are wondering if I got lost on my way to a seminar. The truth is, though, regardless of our backgrounds, we can all contribute to a sustainable future by simply being more aware of what we eat.

Sustainability most often refers to maintaining the complex natural systems that provide us with fresh air, clean water, and a wondrous habitat in which to live. Sustainable food systems also address the impact of food production on the well-being of humans and animals. It is the intersection of these three areas: environment, human health, and animal welfare, that compels me to act. Our food system has consequences that are both long-term (what does this do to the planet) and short-term (how can we keep our 10-year-olds from becoming obese) and at both the smallest scale of community – our bodies, our families – and the global community as well.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” ~Ghandi

My first decision, upon learning about where our food actually comes from and all of the ramifications of that system, was to turn in disgust and walk in the opposite direction from industrial, conventional food. I completely stopped eating conventional meat and eggs; I haven’t purchased eggs from a grocery store in over a year. I also switched to organic produce, ideally locally-grown, which I purchase from various farmers markets and through a farm CSA. The transition was easier than I thought it would be. It’s amazing how much less appetizing a cheeseburger looks when I can envision the cow from whence it came living in its own muck, unable to move because it is so confined, and being pumped full of antibiotics to keep it from dying because it’s forced to eat corn that its body cannot process. And it doesn’t stop with the patty. I can almost see the corn sweeteners in the bun that will cause an insulin spike in my blood and the pesticides used to grow the vegetables draining into the local water supply. This is the story behind nearly every cheeseburger served in a restaurant or fast food joint in the United States, every burger grilled on the fourth of July using the cheap ground beef and hamburger buns sold in nearly every grocery store.

“Knowledge that acts is infinitely more useful than knowledge that sits idle” ~Kahlil Gabrin

In making this transition, I noticed that I wasn’t hearing a lot about these issues from my friends and colleagues. There were lots of Facebook rants about the Tea Party and American Idol and poor grammar, but I realized that the food issues I was learning about were simply absent from the discussion. Changing my own diet was a certainty, but I can’t change the system by myself. To spread the word, I started blogging - to not only inform people of the issues with food, but also to give them an example of how a more sustainable food lifestyle can work. I want to show people that even a busy graduate student can afford, in both time and money, to make better choices. I went a step further by contributing to the Naked Bear sustainable food magazine put together by Berkeley students in 2009 (bears are their mascot). Later, I co-taught a course on food systems and social media, which resulted in the terrific articles featured on The Naked Bear Blog. My goal is to continue to disseminate information about both the problems and solutions within our food system and to teach others to do the same. I hope you will find this blog a useful tool and that you will pass along the information you learn here. There is a sustainable food system out there, and every decision we make can be a step toward that future.

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