News from the Center

Dorothy Henderson, Head of School
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The students and faculty have returned from their week-long “Food Intensive” in which they toured many different types of farming operations in Northern California. Their trip culminated in the big day when all that they learned was put into practice as they prepared a meal of local foods for our semi-annual Local Foods Banquet. The dinner time conversation was alive with descriptions of and reactions to what they had witnessed and learned on the road. The tour of Amy’s Organics food processing plant was illuminating. One student said he had never seen a conveyor belt with workers in an assembly line except “in the movies”. Another spoke of watching the burritos being shaped by a machine with a worker adding the cheese over and over at just the right time-”that just seems so boring as a job!” “But at least they have a job” was the rejoinder from another.

A second conversation focused on the ethnicity of the workers and managers of the various businesses they visited. Two of the students observed that most of the workers were people of color; most of the managers were white. One student stated that this was not necessarily true and pointed out businesses where that did not hold true.

A third conversation centered on the visit to the meat laboratory at Chico State University where the students witnessed the slaughter of a steer. One spoke of how upset she was to see this and said she was considering changing her peace project to work on Animal Rights. Another said that she believes that everyone who eats meat should see a steer being killed. And a third student commented how impressed he was that the slaughter was done with great respect for the animal.

These snippets of conversations around the dinner table give a flavor of the ways in which we are all challenged and enlightened by the educational experience of life and learning at Woolman. The students have read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan in their Environmental Science Class. Pollan writes about the three principal food chains currently feeding us today: the industrial, the organic and the hunter-gatherer. He follows each of these chains from beginning, the plant or group of plants, through to the dinner table. In doing so, he makes it clear that eating is not just a biological act that nourishes our bodies or even a biological and social act that sustains our cultures. Omnivore’s Dilemma makes it clear that eating is also a political and ecological act. Pollan calls on us to become more aware of the political and ecological ramifications of our relationship to our food, and suggests that we will serve our planet, our cultures, and our physical health, not to mention our sheer pleasure in eating, if we do so.

That night we undoubtedly took great pleasure in eating. We were the recipients of generous donations of food from numerous local farms: Ten pounds of beef from Nevada County Free Range Beef; potatoes, cucumbers and hot peppers from Bluebird Farms; red peppers, zucchini, radishes, yellow squash and eggplants galore from Mountain Bounty Farms; tomatillos and snap beans from Naked Farms; wheat and teff from Grass Valley Grains; potatoes from Loma Rica Ranch; a gift basket from Olala Farms; a $25.00 gift certificate from Briar Patch Natural Foods Community Market; and herbs from Wild Woman Farm. All of this was in addition to the produce from our own Woolman gardens.

Those of us who shared this local feast had a “whole foods” experience; a meal that delighted the palate, challenged our cultural assumptions, enhanced our sense of relationship to our earth and its inhabitants, and called on us to eat with mindfulness and gratitude.

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