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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

No, really: what do we want to be made of?

<nday afternoon, squeezed into the sweaty, bubble-slimed chapel, the Carleton community began the year with a very interesting, and very important convocation. Was the genius-foodie-farmer Gary Nabhan a strange choice to ring in the new year? Perhaps. But assuming that the choice was not just arbitrary, allow me to further consider the significance of this beginning to our year.

The question that Nabhan poetically posed at the beginning of his convocation could not be more fundamental and essential: what do we want to be made of? The answer needs to be taken seriously, on a daily basis, because it is the only question that faces us so frequently.

Every day, three (or likely more) times a day, we literally have a plateful of choices in front of us, and the food we eat links us to nearly ever corner of the globe. Just take breakfast, for example: who picked the coffee beans? Under what labor conditions? Where? With what impact on the native ecosystem? Was the farmer paid fairly for their product? Where did the eggs come from? How were the chickens treated? who collected the eggs? How were they treated? Who grew the vegetables? Where? how far were they transported? What pesticides and fertilizers were used? How much water? How much land? …and so on and so on. We aren’t just served a veggie omelet and a cup of coffee- there are farmers, fields, and/or factories on our plates. With our fork and spoon, we can vote for just, fair conditions for farmworkers. We can vote for clean water and healthy, living soil. We can vote for animal welfare. We can vote for a strong local economy and fair global trade. Or not.

And yes, we can make these choices in the cafeteria or snack bar. We need to recognize the privilege of having a dining provider that cares more than average about the food they prepare and serve, but hold them accountable for the decisions they make for us about that cellular, soulful, essential question of what we are made of. Is there palm oil in any of our baked goods, grown in plantations that displace indigenous people and destroy rainforest throughout the global south? Are they definitely not serving any tomatoes picked in near-slavery conditions in Immokalee, Florida? What are the political associations of the corporations that grow the bananas and grapefruit? Could they support the production of any of the native, endangered foods that Gary Nabhan advocates for? Does the “low carbon diet” go deeper than shiny marketing? How much more could they buy from the super-local Carleton Student Organic Farm? Are the options adequate for those with vegan, vegetarian, and other dietary preferences? Are their employees happy?

Nabhan, along with innumerable farmers, farm advocates and food activists, have dedicated their lives to these questions, the deep work of what they want to be made of. We might as well give it a second thought.

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