Grant Funds Courses on Food, Globalization
What started as a grant application to partner Presbyterian colleges, seminaries and churches turned into a Spring Term class that challenged the way students thought about a basic need — their food.
Alma College Chaplain Carol Gregg received a grant from the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities to explore food globalization in the context of society, theology and ethics in 2007.
This year, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Kate Blanchard and Associate Professor of Sociology Catherine Fobes used the grant money to teach separate but related courses on the issue of globalization and food.
Students at a Michigan farm.
Students met with a local pastor and watched films like “Fast Food Nation” and “Babette’s Feast,” discussing not just where the food comes from but also issues like labor, exploitation and the social aspects of eating.
But the highlight of the course, both professors agree, were the field trips to look at two very different sides of food. The first trip was to Chicago, where students explored urban food issues by visiting a food bank, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, an ethnic neighborhood and a religious shelter.
You might not think of the Chicago Mercantile exchanges as a place that has anything to do with food, but, in fact, one of the things traded is options in food goods such as corn and soy and livestock.
“It was so bizarre to think that farmers worldwide are affected by what people in Chicago think their goods are worth,” says Blanchard.
The group visited the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which supplies 600 food pantries and soup kitchens in the greater Chicago area. They also did a service project for Su Casa, a former Franciscan friary that provides assistance to low-income immigrants and Latinos.
They also took advantage of the many ethnic restaurants Chicago has to offer, eating Indian and Korean. Students has a great chance to look at the social interactions between mixed classes and races at the Valois Cafeteria in Hyde Park, the subject of a famous ethnography.
Students from the McCormick Seminary in Chicago traveled to Michigan for the second field trip when the classes visited an industrial dairy farm in Breckenridge and an organic farm in Rosebush.
“That trip was one of my best days in Michigan,” says Fobes. “It was a great way to explore rural life. And the contrast between the farms was stunning.”
At Hooks Dairy Farm, the cows were housed together, and the operations were streamlined and mechanical. At Graham’s Organic Farm, the cows roamed freely and were raised for meat — Graham’s has one of two certified organic slaughterhouses in the state of Michigan.
“The main goal of the course was to make students think more about their food and where it comes from,” says Blanchard.
Posted: Mon, June 29th, 2009 at 9:24AM