What ethical issues do you think about when it comes to buying, preparing, and eating food? How much do you know about the roles politics, capitalism, class, race, and climate change play in our food system today?

On July 23, we held the first of six sessions of the food course Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability. The Northwest Earth Institute wrote the curriculum for this course and the Society for Ethical Culture is administering and facilitating it. The first session is an introduction to sustainable, local, humane, and environmentally friendly food. Our discussion was focused on a few articles that we read from our course book. We had 14 people in the room, each of whom brought different knowledge of the topic. One participant works for an organization focused on climate change as it relates to food, while another works on a sustainable farm and sells her produce at a farmers’ market in the Bronx. Several of the participants in this course are members of Bronx Climate Justice North, while we also have representatives of the Society for Ethical Culture.

We had rich discussions about how to buy local and seasonal produce at farmers’ markets and where we can find humanely raised, non-toxic fish. We learned about industrial farming and the process of growing tomatoes in Florida that are green and hard as rocks when picked. We talked about the pros and cons of eating out vs. eating in and what limits us from cooking 100% of the time. An article by Barbara Kingsolver, excerpted from her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle got us thinking about what it would be like to eat only seasonal, local food. It would entail freezing summer and fall produce for the winter, and giving up certain non-local foods such as chocolate and bananas. A hard pill to swallow for most of the people in our course!

Our discussion also covered the political and economic systems at play in our food environment. We talked about migrant workers, including on some local farms in New York State, and grappled with a difficult situation there. How can we intentionally not support the practice of using migrant labor, which is often dangerous and unjust for its workers, but support the workers themselves to receive higher wages and better living conditions? One of the members of our course offered to send around legislation for a migrant workers bill in New York State that needs more support to pass. This course is allowing us to learn about the politics behind what we eat and become politically engaged.

The last portion of our session focused on what action we would take until we meet again for the second session. We thought about our relationship with food and one thing we would do to improve how we interact with our food system. Some people were going to look for farmers markets, eat less meat or sugar, reuse plastic bags in the kitchen, or look into the migrant farm workers’ bill. We’ll see if they followed through with their intentions at our next meeting!

For more information on our Hungry for Change course, please visit our website.

Liz Collier

Community Outreach Director at Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture
Liz, who grew up in Ethical Culture and has helped our young adult organization to flourish, works with RYSEC to connect the Society and other area organizations and to create and publicize programs to inspire ethical living.

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