As a resident of Eastown, a socioeconomically diverse community just northwest of the Calvin campus, Calvin senior Jack Organ has had to wrestle with some tough questions.
“I’ve wondered about the social inequality I’ve seen in my neighborhood when it comes to something like food,” he said. “The corner store sells chips and peanuts and ice cream—all foods that are heavily processed. Then there are restaurants like the Electric Cheetah and Marie Catrib’s that cost a lot more but have so much better food. It’s the lower-income people who generally are at the corner store buying their food. As a white college student living there, I don’t know what to do with that.”
He was hoping to get some answers this interim by studying “Local Food Options and Challenges.”
In the three-week-long class, biology professor David Koetje addressed the social and ethical issues associated with food choices as well as issues of health and sustainability.
“I believe health and sustainability are the biggest issues this generation will face,” he said. “Because food plays such a major role in those, it’s the perfect interdisciplinary topic to teach. It’s controversial because it gets right to the heart of what it means to have a good life and good lifestyle.”
On one day in class, students were confronted with the health issues related to food by watching Forks Over Knives, a provocative film that examines the claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.
“Does this mean that we all should be vegans?” Koetje posed. “I like cheese. I like ice cream. It’s easy to take any video and oversimplify things. What we have to do is learn from this, think about our lifestyles. For all but the last 50 years or so, Homo sapiens mostly ate plants. They had to chase down the meats and that took a lot of energy.
“The way our body works reflects what our ancestors’ lifestyle was. When we eat and have activities that aren’t what our bodies are adapted to that’s when we have problems.”
So, the second half of that class period was prepping to restore some of their ancestors’ diets: Students planted red leaf, Buttercrunch and Gourmet Salad lettuce seeds and started the germination process for alfalfa, radish and buckwheat sprouts. The harvest of which was enjoyed during the feast the students prepared from local foods—including their own—on the last day of class.
In between, students had the opportunity to search for local foods at area grocery stores; visit a hydroponic lettuce farm and goat creamery; make bread, applesauce, butter and cheese; and learn how to can foods.
Sophomore Margaret Rechel grew up with a large garden in her back yard. “I’m really interested in local foods, partly because I have a food allergy found in processed foods,” she said. “I’m interested in learning about canning fruit; I’ve never done that before.”
Juniors Jessica Lee and Daniel Ling were also interested in the hands-on aspect of the course. “I’m looking forward to making cheese, butter and bread and visiting places to actually see what’s going on with local foods,” said Lee.
“I have no experience with gardening or anything like that,” added Ling. “I think maybe I made salsa once.”
Students had to face some questions about their own lifestyle choices, Koetje said. “How does one take their faith commitment and apply it to how they live? There are a lot of the big questions in this class.”
Organ is ready for the application. “Over the last couple of years I’ve learned more about the way the world works, and I’ve becomes discontented with the systems that are in place. I want to learn about food in a more intimate way than I’ve ever experienced before. I’m hoping this will provide some answers to college students who don’t have much time and don’t have much money and grew up eating string cheese and Go-Gurt.”