By Carly Shields and
Four Ohio Wesleyan professors chewed on the importance of food at “bite’s” first lecture.
The lecture, titled “Why is Food Important? Food Across the Disciplines at Ohio Wesleyan University: A Panel Discussion” was on Sept.13 in the Benes rooms.
Professors Mary Howard of anthropology, David Walker of geography, Shari Stone of philosophy and Chris Wolverton of microbiology and botany each gave their views and opinions of food through their academic disciplines.
Professor Christopher Fink, the director of “bite!” was the mediator of the lecture and directed the professor’s discussion of food and how it relates to a greater scheme of importance.
“As far as the lecture/panel discussion goes, I thought it went very well,” Fink said. “My goals for the event were to show how food as a topic could cross disciplines, and how there are so many issues from each that are relevant for those interested in food.”
He said he also wanted to demonstrate how our interest in food, even as academics, often starts from personal stories that offer insight into our lives.
Each professor gave a short description of how food is important in their own lives and why they became interested in food as an issue and as an enjoyable hobby.
Professor Howard grew up on her grandparent’s farm where she spent almost every weekend running around the property creating havoc and trying to help.
“When I was four years old I was found trying to milk a bull,” Howard said.
Professor Wolverton enjoyed food through cooking and gardening.
Professor Walker grew up in San Francisco with two parents who were food and wine experts.
Professor Stone-Mediatore grew up in the suburbs of Chicago eating meat, white bread and pop tarts. After she moved out of home she became a vegetarian. She learned how to cook and became aware of the amount of meat we eat as a country.
“I don’t find any hard and fast rules about how to eat, but eating more locally from small farms, and avoiding meat from industrial-agriculture, is healthier for us and our environment,”Stone-Mediatore said.
Stone-Mediatore also said there’s only so much we can do as individuals. “We need public policies that support small farmers and make local, sustainably-produced foods more accessible,”she said.
The professors discussed how their disciplines are intertwined with food and how their interaction with food changed through their work.
Howard demonstrated how food related to cultural anthropology by showing a short slideshow of her studies in Tanzania on malnutrition, poverty, famine and the food crises. The hardest part for Howard was to live in poverty in developing countries and then move back to Ohio to teach at OWU.
“I had a lot of exposure to on-the farm food production and had led a good life, which placed me in the privileged position of being a picky eater. When I witnessed a food crisis and became aware of the prevalence of hunger among so many fellow humans, I abandoned being demanding when it comes to food,” Howard said.
Walker described food as the “mobilizing of politics.” Cultural geography looks at cultures and cites around the world and food fits into that scheme as well. Walker said America even has its own different food practices, but they are overlooked.
Walker said we are what we eat and he also sees food as part of a foreign trade and global issue.
“Through traveling it has shown me where our food comes from,” Walker said. “We have coffee growers in Guatemala, Ethiopia and more. Its all blood stained coffee we bring into the U.S. We can and should change those food practices in the U.S.,” Walker said.
Wolverton is a plant and molecular biologist who is studying how plants like rice deal with draught. He also examines how plants take everything they need from soil and then control the use of the nutrients. Wolverton is especially focising on the flooding tolerance of rice. “If we can understand how that works then we can help cure malnutrition and other diseases with food,” Wolverton said. “It’s worth while to me.”
Wolverton also said molecular biologists are looking into genetic modification to help cure diseases and help cure malnutrition by helping women and children grow crops such as cassave, a starchy tuberous root.
Stone-Mediatore said food blurs the boundaries between nature and culture. “Our daily meals remind us of our dependence on the land as well as our immersion in the cultural traditions that shape how we eat,” Stone-Mediatore said.
According to Fink, the lecture and discussion with four diverse areas of study on the importance and effects of food was very successful.
“I thought that getting four professors who study food-related issues from a number of angles might show how solving these larger issues actually requires us to understand the intricacies of the various disciplines, and use expertise from each to inform the best solutions,” he said.
He also said he asked professors to take part because they represent a nice range of disciplines (though certainly not an exhaustive range), and they were also passionate about their areas of study.
“I think that came through very well during the panel,” he said.
Students were also engaged in the lecture.
“I really enjoyed hearing about the same topic from several different disciplines,” said junior Genevieve Watts. “It is amazing how people from the science world can find similar aspects to the people from the sociology world and how intertwined everything really is.”
The Sagan National Colloquium will continue to focus on the relationship between people and food throughout the remaining 12 lectures.
The next lecture will take place on Monday Sept. 24 and is titled, “Food Justice: At the Intersection of Food, Politics, Poverty, Public Health and the Environment”.” The lecture will feature author Bryant Terry.