In Class

April 3, 2015 at 11:18 am

Food Justice: A Week of Lived Experience

Students learn to prepare meals at United Methodist Church in Athens.

Students in a new Food Justice course spent spring break learning firsthand that it’s not just the distance food travels to the plate—sometimes it never makes it to the plate.

Hunger. Poor nutrition. How does that happen around Athens, a fertile region once filled with farms and ranches and known for producing all its own food? In the half decade since forests took back many of those pastures and fields, interstate highways and refrigerator trucks have made it economical to move food from far-away fields into local groceries and convenience stores.

But students in ENG 3000x Literature of Social Reflection: Principles and Practice of Food Justice spent the first week in March examining the real cost of food distribution—and hunger in America.

Their “a week of lived experience” mirrored the contradictions and controversies present in the literature they had been reading.

Students working in the food pantry.

Students working in the food pantry.

Visit to Snowville Cream

Visit to Snowville Cream

Food Justice: Healthy and Affordable?

“Food justice is commonly defined as the right of all to healthy, affordable food,” says Dr. Theresa Moran, faculty leader of the Food Studies curricular theme at Ohio University. “The food justice movement also aims to ensure that the benefits and risks of producing, distributing, and consuming food are shared fairly by everyone involved, and it strives to transform the food system to eliminate inequities of access, quality and affordability.

“And healthy food is generally assumed to mean food that is fresh, nutritious, and affordable, culturally appropriate, and grown with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals,” she adds. “Food justice also emphasizes local food production to improve access to healthy foods and to improve the quality of the food available all members of every community.”

Literature as a tool for social reflection is a key ingredient in Moran’s course, but the students also were required to do hands-on activities and reflective journal writings.

Students learn to prepare meals at United Methodist Church in Athens.

Students learn to prepare meals at United Methodist Church in Athens.

From Being Served to Being the Server

They started their week on Sunday night with a group dinner at Casa Bodega in Athens, part of the worker-owned Casa Nueva popular with Ohio University faculty and staff.

But on Monday morning they were dicing vegetables in the large kitchen at the First United Methodist Church in Athens. Now they were serving lunch, not being served. And they spent the afternoon watching a video about a Morgan County, OH, produce auction which closed the distance between the fields and the market.

But that still doesn’t close the gap between the farm and the homeless. While they toured Shagbark Seed and Mill, the Village Bakery, Snowville Creamery, and the Athens Farmers Market, they also visited the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, Community Food Initiatives, and the Good Works Timothy House.

Now the students in ENG 3000x are working on their final project, synthesizing their readings assignments and the practice of civic service.

“Food Justice in Athens is just one great example of the transformative learning opportunities available to students,” says Ashley Beatty-Smith, Office of Global Programs Coordinator. “This program in particular has engaged students with a set of issues we do not often see firsthand while living on campus. With the changing mission and vision of the Office of Global Opportunities, we are thrilled to now coordinate domestic programming.”

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