The Politics of Food: Eating Your Way to a Better World

For one week at the end of January, Reed students upend the traditional classroom hierarchy and teach classes about any topic they love, academic or otherwise. This week is known as Paideia after the Greek term signifying “education” – the complete education of mind, body and spirit. What would you teach that would contribute to the Reed community? (200 words minimum, 500 words maximum)

In today’s food-centric culture, different cuisines give communities and regions distinct identities, from the wine and brie of France to the beignets and Chicory coffee of New Orleans. Yet for all the conversations we have over food, we rarely talk about the unavoidable political consequences of the foods we choose to eat.

My Paideia would try to change that. I would offer a cooking class focused on using sustainable ingredients as a way to open up conversations about ethical eating. While most diet discussions center on ways to improve individual health, ethical eating is all about improving the health of one’s community, and ultimately, the planet.Food production is a global industry that implicates countless people, most of the world’s animals, and a host of economic, political, and social interests.

From cultivation to consumption, food justice is about ensuring that the process is ethical. People think of food justice advocates primarily as animal rights advocates but the movement is about much more than that. It is about protecting the rights of all beings involved in the food industry, the animals, yes, but also the farmers and laborers, who are often subject to labor and human rights abuses. It is about reversing the toll that animal agriculture has taken on the environment, particularly because the impacts of environmental degradation hit low income communities first, and these are often communities of color. It’s about understanding that eating sustainably is a privilege, as access to fresh produce and health foods isn’t commonplace in many parts of the world.

Quinoa is one example of the complexity of food politics. A popular superfood in the west, quinoa had devastating social consequences in where it was grown in Bolivia. As the demand grew in the west, so did the price of the grain in its native country. What once was a staple in the Bolivian diet became a luxury item, forcing many Bolivians to turn to cheaper, mass produced foods. The result was malnutrition. This is the type of conversation that I would like to have with my fellow Reed students during my Paideia cooking class. I hope to get people thinking about the social, political, and economic effects of their food choices. While I try to eat ethically by not eating meat, and I am sure many other Reed students do the same, there are many ways to eat in a sustainable manner. Whether it be by reducing meat intake, shopping for locally grown produce or simply making the switch to fair-trade coffee, we all can make a difference at the dinner table.

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