A few weeks ago I learned about a course that was open to the public at UC Berkeley, Edible Education 101: The Rise and Future of the Food Movement. The Edible School Yard Project manages the public tickets through Eventbrite. If you sign up for information, the Tuesday before the following Monday’s event you get an email alert to say the tickets for the public are available. By the time I learned about the course I had already missed the first three lectures by Michael Pollan, Raj Patel, and a joint one by Brenda Eskenazi and Tyrone Hayes. I’ve read most of Michael Pollan’s books and I thought Raj Patel’s book, Stuffed and Starved, was really powerful. I was disappointed to miss them, but the Edible School Yard Project posts videos of the lectures after each event so at least there’s an opportunity to see them. Next up was Joan Gussow. Joan’s book, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, was one of my favorites when I was getting my own edible garden going in the East Bay. I eagerly waited for the announcement to come through, and when it did I was in the middle of a day of meetings so decided to register after work. By the time I got around to it at 6:00 in the evening it was sold out!
The following week was Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. The announcement came through and I pounced on it and got a ticket. I felt like Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a golden ticket and a chocolate bar in my hand – fair trade, of course.
The lecture was last Monday night at Wheeler Hall on campus, and the theatre was packed with students at the front and the plebs from the public at the back. You could see the hair color in the audience shift from dark to grey as you cast your eyes from front to back. You could also tell if someone was a student because they all had a clicker in their hand. A clicker is a device that helps the students and lecturer interact with each other when there are a lot of students in a single class. The lecturer polls the students occasionally and the students click A, B, C, D, or E on the device. Their data is collected real-time and reported a few minutes later. I’ve seen clickers widely used in K-12 but didn’t know they were used in Higher Education too. I think a show of hands and students simply standing up and asking their questions at the right moment could have accomplished the same thing. Student questions were instead read out as if they were calling into a radio show. I suspect the clicker is tied to the student and that the student gets points for participation. The student next to me had two clickers. An absent fellow student but a present clicker? A malfunctioning clicker and a spare? Double credit? I didn’t like to ask.
Clickers aside, Olivier De Schutter’s lecture was excellent and he had a very nice technique for engaging the students. His talk, Food Wars Across the Globe, will be posted soon here. He took three global issues related to food and food security and presented both sides of the argument, then asked the students to take their own position based on the data he presented. This is very similar to the approach to content topics in the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI), where authors, editors and even word choices were very carefully reviewed to make sure a biased point of view was not presented, leaving it up to students and their teachers to take their own positions. The topics De Schutter covered were:
- Does the global peasantry have a future?
- Is trade part of the problem or the solution?
- Women as independent food producers – the “feminization of agriculture”
I’ll review the first one and you can watch the video for the exploration of the others. For the first topic, De Schutter compared small scale and highly labor-intensive agriculture to very large scale mechanized agriculture. The argument for the latter is we need to boost agriculture by industrial means because we need to feed a growing world population that is increasingly urbanized (in excess of 50% of the world population is already living in urban areas). This kind of agriculture represents progress and the defense of peasants is a form of paternalism. The other position he took was that small-scale family farms have moved way beyond subsistence, are actually viable, and contribute to crop diversity and food security. Also, the true global population growth is actually manageable and agricultural productivity (2.2) already outpaces population growth (1.4) so food per capita is increasing. Finally, encouraging rural development reduces rural poverty and there are positive impacts on external factors such as health, social (family), and the environment.
The students were then asked to vote on the following (the results of their votes are in parenthesis):
- Campaign to support peasants’ rights (40%)
- Encourage a peaceful coexistence (54%)
- Encourage an orderly exit for peasants (3%)
- Get the prices right – let the market decide (4%)
It was at this point that De Schutter did offer an opinion. I won’t spoil the video but to give you a clue he did say access to land and access to credit is hard and most support currently goes to middle sized or large sized farms. What would you vote for?
It was well worth the effort I went through to get a ticket and I even didn’t mind the walk in the rain because, as you know if you’ve been to campus, you can’t get parking on or near campus for love nor money. During my walk I met a student named Ari who is studying economics. I told him where I was going and he walked me all the way to Wheeler Hall. We had a great chat about the distribution of food around the world—a nice appetizer before the main course.
On Tuesday the next invitation came through for Wayne Pacelle on Animals and the Food System. It was an hour before I was able to register and all the tickets were gone—again! March 17th is Alice Waters, Cynthia Rosenzweig, and Courtney White interviewed by Anne Lappé. I’ll have to virtually camp out like Apple fans waiting for the next release of the iPhone for that one. Join me!