You are what you eat.
For many of us, this saying brings nothing more to mind than cartoon images of human-sized bananas with arms and legs, or smiling, anthropomorphized versions of broccoli and tuna fish. But “you are what you eat” can have a much more profound meaning than that.
Most elementary school children can tell you that in order to get a seed to grow into a plant, you need to expose it to water and light. These are vital to its survival, growth, and eventual development into a food source. But the plant also needs to be nourished by minerals and nutrients in the soil. If a seed is planted in nutrient-poor soil, the seed will require inputs (fertilizers) to grow. Organic gardeners and permaculturists tell us to feed the soil and invest in a long-term way to feed the world, instead of feeding a plant with artificial fertilizers that run off into our waterways and cause imbalances in ecosystems.
When we harvest the fruit of the plant’s hard work and then eat it, our bodies break down the cells of the plant and harvest the nutrients it has accumulated. These nutrients not only feed our bodies the calories we need to work and play – they are the building blocks of our skin, our eyes, our brains. Our food choices affect our weight, our abilities, our strength and endurance, the diseases we face, and even the intelligence capacity of our children.
We create ourselves by what we choose to feed ourselves. And, as you can see, not only are we what we eat, we are also what our soil eats.
On the other hand, you could say that we create the world by what we choose to eat. Our food choices affect ecosystem health, how harvesters and factory workers are treated, the health of farm workers, which foods are grown and sold, how humanely animals are treated, and even how much carbon dioxide and methane are released into the atmosphere. Food connects us intimately with the world around us and provides a concrete entry point into the discussions of many of the global concerns we face today.
Northwest Earth Institute’s discussion courses Menu for the Future (revised edition released in April) and Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability explore the interconnections of our food systems and our relationship to and responsibility in these systems. These courses challenge us all to look at our roles as not just consumers of food, but also as creators – of food, of systems, and of the world we want to live in.
NWEI discussion courses give people a framework to talk about their relationship with the planet and to share in discovering new ways to live, work, create and consume. The discussion courses have been used in workplaces, on college campuses, in centers of faith, and in other communities throughout North America – engaging 140,000 people to date in shared learning, personal reflection and positive action. They are designed to help break big issues into bite-sized pieces. And they help create a personal network of shared stories and support that makes it easy to take action.
Use Menu for the Future or Hungry for Change to help you, your community, or your students explore the connection between food and sustainability. Examine the many cultural, social, and ecological implications of food consumption. Discuss the importance of our eating habits, and discover food choices that are good for you and the health of our environment.