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Food and farming advocate Gary Nabhan presents opening convocation

<od was on everyone’s mind at opening convocation, Monday, September 14. Internationally renowned food and farming activist Gary Paul Nabhan spoke at Carleton’s first convocation of the 2009-2010 academic year. Presenting a speech entitled “Renewing America’s Food Traditions,” Nabhan focused on the importance of place-based food production and consumption.

“What do we want to be made of? What do we want to taste like when we, in our own turn, are eaten?” Nabhan asked a packed Skinner Memorial Chapel. As Nabhan explained, there are often hidden costs to the foods we purchase and consume. “There is oil, water and blood hidden in our foods.”

In this time of dramatic economic and climactic changes, Nabhan said it is necessary to “readapt and re-localize food production to the particulars of place.”

“Over the past two years, humanity has faced the worst global crisis for food security in the last decade,” Nabhan said.

On average, food travels 1,500 miles before it reaches our mouths. According to Nabhan, this system based on fossil fuels is unsustainable and needs to be revolutionized. Nabhan said that there is hope for a future of a “solar-based, carbon neutral foodshed.” Since 2000, there has been a 22% increase in locally purchased food.

Carleton, Nabhan said, is doing its own part in this movement. Bon Appétit, the college’s dining services, has worked in conjuncture with the RAFT Alliance (Renewing America’s Food Traditions), an organization that brings food producers, consumers and chefs together to better understand local foods and food traditions. As Nabhan explained, the goal of RAFT is to use existing institutions and communities to teach better practices of consumption and production. In this way, Nabhan said, local areas can hope to reach “food sovereignty.”

The goal of any consumer should be to “know where your food has come from by the very way it tastes” Nabhan concluded.

Nabhan has written over twenty books and lectured around the world, including such countries as Lebanon, Guatemala, Italy and Oman. He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, such as the MacArthur Genius Fellowship, the Pew Fellowship in Conservation and Environment, and the John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing.

Nabhan teaches at the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona and founded the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University. Before the convocation, Carleton awarded Nabhan an honorary degree of Doctor of Science. Professor of Anthropology and Chair of Sociology and Anthropology Jay Levi introduced Nabhan and presented the honorary degree.

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