Willis Jenkins: The Ethics of Food and the Health of the Planet

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Willis Jenkins: The Ethics of Food and the Health of the Planet

[MUSIC PLAYING] Good evening, everyone Thanks for coming out on a snowy night after a very sunny day yesterday It’s kind of a shock I’d like to welcome all of you to Boston College and to this evening’s event in BC’s Park Street Corporation Speaker Series, Health, Humanity, and Ethics I’m Amy Boesky I’m chair of the English Department and director of BC’s minor in medical humanities, health, and culture And with my colleague, Jim Keenan from Theology, who unfortunately is away this evening, we direct BC’s Park Street Corporation Speaker Series The Speaker Series launched in 2016 We’ve have a thematic bond each year And this year we’ve been exploring the health of the planet We’ve had a really wonderful group of speakers and tonight are really fortunate to have Willis Jenkins with us, who has had a long day of travel Had to go south to come north And we’re really glad that he’s here The goal of the Speaker Series is to address timely issues in the intersecting fields of health, humanity, and ethics We are greatly appreciative both of the corporation and the late Father Quinn, whose generous commitment to civic conversation and the common good aligns so well with the mission of Boston College So we’re honored this evening to have Willis Jenkins with us, whose talk will be titled, “The Ethics of Food and the Health of the Planet.” Willis will be introduced by me colleague Andrea Vicini from BC’s School for Theological Ministry Following the talk, there will be time for questions And if I could ask you now just to silence cellphones and other things that beep as we welcome Andrea who will introduce this evening’s speaker Thank you [APPLAUSE] As Professor Boesky just said, we are very grateful to welcome Professor Willis Jenkins at Boston College After his studies at Wheaton College and the University of Virginia, where his training focused on contemporary environmental ethics and the classical Christian theology Professor Jenkins taught at Yale University as Margaret Farley Professor of Social Ethics, while at the same time, he had an appointment at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Since 2015, he teaches at University of Virginia as Professor of Religion, Ethics, and Environmental Studies, and co-director of the Institute for Practical Ethics Currently, he’s also directing an environmental humanities lab that develops transdisciplinary reflections on coastal changes at the University of Virginia’s Long Term Ecological Research site funded by the National Science Foundation At the University of Virginia, his courses study religion, ethics, and global environment, global ethics and climate change, the moral ecology of food, environmental ethics, and method and inquiry in religious ethics His courses are further confirmation of his ongoing research interests Professor Jenkin’s research explores intersections of religious ethics with environmental humanities In his first book project, Ecologies of Grace– Environmental Ethics and Christian Theology, published in 2008, he undertook comparative theological readings in the context of modern environmental questions His book won the John Templeton Award for Theological Promise More recently, his interests broadened to interpret other models of religious engagement with environmental thought, including the relations of ethics and environmental sciences, particularly Christian social ethics and its reckoning with economics and political violence As a result, he published The Future of Ethics– Sustainability, Social Justice, and Religious Creativity, published in 2013 And this book won an American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence Moreover, Professor Jenkins is also interested in reflecting on method as well as on global ethics by focusing particularly

on climate ethics and the morality in Anthropocene Together with the co-edited Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology, published last year, and recent articles on plutocracy, on virtue ethics in climate discourse, and of Pope Francis, his remarkable list of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and scholarly lectures confirm his outstanding expertise and commitment in reflecting ethically on sustainability And in promoting sustainable conditions of life for our planet Finally, he’s currently writing a book on how the ethics of food matters for post-natural environmental thought Tonight’s lecture on “The Ethics of food and the Health of the Planet,” witnesses his interest in food studies Without further ado, Professor Willis Jenkins [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Professor Vicini for a really kind and attentive introduction There’s so many good people in this room and I just want to thank you for being here And for those of you who don’t know me, I want to start off by alleviating anxieties that you may have If you came tonight for this lecture slightly worried that a professional ethicist is going to tell you what you’re obligated to eat, I’m not here to prescribe for you a diet I understand that Michael Pollan has been here already in this series, so you’ve received the food rules [INAUDIBLE] about that Instead, I want to try and think of this space between the ethics of the food and the health of the planet So I’m going to explore possible connections between arguing over food rules and interpreting ecological change at smaller scales And specifically, I’m going to test the possibility that everyday food ways may carry the potential under certain conditions to function as sites of deep cultural change And in a period of cynical climate politics, that holds the possibility that reforming food ways can nourish a kind of long-term ecological hope even in dark times One other disclaimer So I teach in religious studies as we know And I’m going to use some religious examples at some point to make these connections between the ethics of food and the health of the planet But I want to be clear from the outset that it’s not my view that you need religion to make these connections Although it is possible that you will leave here thinking that I have in a sneaky kind of way argued just that We’ll see So let me start from a religious case Scholars of religion have an enduring interest in food rules among the Abrahamic traditions The distinctions there are especially well marked Judaism eats kosher, Islam eats halal, Christianity marks its difference by prohibiting food prohibitions And each has a distinctive feasts, and fasts, and many local variations on the rules And I’m interested in a particular set of variations, the emergence of eco-kosher, eco-halal, and a Christian vegetarian movement to re-institute prohibitions [LAUGHTER] So these variations, they are interesting because they bear disruptive potential for their traditions In so far as religious food ways produce a particular identity, revising them can call into question the authorizing logic that connects the religious body to its symbolic order If the rational for eating halal is that it has been revealed that some foods are permissible and others are forbidden, and not because halal is more hygienic, or humane, or healthier, then an eco-halal can seem almost disobedience in its excess of dietary piety, adding new stipulations that are not grounded in the Quran or Hadith by referring to contemporary ecological ideas And indeed, eco-halal is regarded in just that way sometimes with suspicion for departing from the culinary expression of Muslim identity And so too, for eco-kosher and Christian vegetarianism, revising the food way renegotiates the logic of identity expressed in the food region So what to make of those variations? What’s going on there? Keep that question in mind And then I want to turn to planetary scales– “A Cultivated Planet.” Jonathan Foley, an ecologist, writes with many colleagues on a widely-cited Nature article of that title that agriculture is a massive driver of global environmental change, pushing multiple systems beyond what science

of the global resilience call safe operating space for humanity And depending on how we count, semi-cultivated forest agriculture takes up half or more of the arable, ice-free land surface of the planet So major planetary systems have been reshaped by how we feed ourselves– planetary nitrogen, the phosphorous cycle, are now dominated by agricultural fertilization, which has more than tripled the natural background rate of cycling for both Agriculture is also a major contributor to global warming, accounting for maybe 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is twice the transportation sector It’s the major determinant of freshwater consumption And agricultural land use has historically been one of the most important factors in biodiversity laws Or, another way to think about it– through agriculture, a species that represents about 0.5% of Earth’s biomass captures a quarter of the planet’s primary productivity So we should image the challenges of global environmental governance taking place on a farmed Earth That’s one way to think about Anthropocene– the proposal that human influence pervades so many planetary systems that we should image ourselves as living in a new epic of national history– out of the Holocene and into a post-national period named after the species remaking the planet in its image And yet. even so, this massive agricultural system does not feed every member of that species As you know, about 1 billion humans lack food Or in other words, 1 out of ever 7 humans lives in chronic malnourishment And meanwhile, several billion just above that threshold aspire to eat better than they do Particularly, as their incomes rise, they want to eat more animal protein And moreover, global population is still rising and projected to reach about 10 billion by 2050 Meeting the basic needs of that growing population while delivering the diet that higher income people seem to demand will require a doubling in agricultural output And that’s without any increase in biofuels So agriculture represents an already massive system of energy capture and faces intense pressure to deliver even more Drawing down– to use a metaphor from the climate movement– is not an option And one of the most important anthropogenic drivers will environmental change Indeed, it seems, to meet human hunger, cultivation of the planet must intensify Is that even possible? David Tilman and Michael Clark, two of the most authoritative food system researchers, find that daily food demand in the wealthiest countries, mostly because of their demand for animal-based foods, requires producing 8,000 calories of food to deliver 3,500 to each person, of which about 25% is wasted But that seems to be the diet that people want For as incomes rise, humans everywhere are demanding more meat and more disposable products with empty calories You can’t see that at all That is a graph that says as incomes rise, people want more meat So Tilman and Clark estimate that the global average diet, if you include forecast of global per capita income rise, would have to have 31% more meat, 58% more dairy, and feed about 2 million more people And that diet, finds a research article in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, would consume all of humanity’s carbon budget in 2015 and more than double the amount of nitrogen that can be safely added to planetary systems In other words, it would be a disaster for planetary health But maybe it would also be a disaster for human health So these three Harvard public health researchers summarizing their findings in the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences write that replacing red meat with nuts, fish, poultry, legumes, would be optimal for human health That’s a picture of the Harvard Healthy Plate And it just so happens they note that red meat has the highest emissions impact The diets that would promote human health and environmental sustainability broadly intersect, they say Tilman and Clark, those food system ecologists, they agree So they assess– I’m sorry, these graphs are not as– I’ll just tell you what they say I can’t believe [INAUDIBLE] These scientists assessed the greenhouse gas emissions of three diets with better health outcomes– so, three diets that are recommended by nutritionists– Mediterranean, pescaterian, vegetarian They find that, if these were globally adopted, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a third to a half A dietary transition in that direction– basically, away from ruminant meats and toward plants– would cancel out the food demand from population growth, leading to net-zero growth in agricultural sector greenhouse

gas emissions So that’s a snapshot of food systems and planetary health And I think there’s two basic takeaways One, we have to thoroughly rethink what agriculture is Settler imaginations often think of agriculture as a humanized domain captured from wilderness, from pure nature, and [? set to ?] productive humans Among several problems with that idea is that the influence of humans, obviously, no longer stops at the borders of protected areas The whole planet, including its forests, now bear the mark of human cultivation The surface of the planet, it’s not farms and cities and wilderness It’s a humanized domain with, more or less, intensively managed regimes So in that “Cultivated Planet” article, Foley’s basically asking us to think about Earth as one big farm And he writes this “Until recently, most agricultural paradigms have focused on improving production, often to the detriment of the environment Likewise, many environmental conservation strategies have not sought to improve food production.” And basically, we have to overcome that dichotomy So we have to rethink human interaction with biosphere reserves as productive in addition to protective– or at least, we have to pay attention to the farm work that we are asking our biosphere reserves to do– absorb nutrients, filter water, pollinate [? rocks, ?] so on And we also need to rethink about how agriculture might be protective in addition to being productive– to be protective of ecological systems on which we all depend For settler North Atlantic societies, that means a tectonic shift in ideas of nature and culture But it’s not as if that’s something that we have not heard before That human health and ecological health coincide is totally unsurprising to agrarians like Wendell Berry, and [? Jean ?] [? Lodgkin, ?] and Wes Jackson and Norman Wirzba, who have been voices from that long tradition that connect political health, moral health, body health, and soil health We’ll come back to the agrarians There’s a second takeaway The global average diet appears that it must change In fact, it must reverse, moving in exactly the opposite way from its current direction, and transition toward eating more products from ruminant animals All of the ecological analyses support that basic takeaway Key planetary systems cannot support the expansion of current forms of animal agriculture Yet none of those analyses have an idea for how that reversal, of course, might happen– except in one clue in the data from Tilman and Clark– which is inscrutable to you But there’s an arrow pointing to a data point This shows that the one country that does not follow this trend– this is [? coming out here ?] underneath– that as income rises, it doesn’t want more meat And that country is India [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, because food is intimately connected with how we understand ourselves and our world And the connections of religion and identity are some of the strongest bonds between food and identity, which makes it very hard to change, but very powerful when they do begin to change OK So now, I’m going to say something about culture, identity, and food waste, starting from a very funny history– a cultural history of the feast by an archaeologist named Martin Jones, who has a hypotheses about where modern grain monocultures came from He asked, well, why did wheat take over the continent of Europe 1500 years ago? It’s not because it was easier to grow or because it produced more calories Rye and barley were better adapted to the local soil They could deliver more nutrition, he says Jones thinks that wheat won because the push into white bread followed the growth of Christianity Because at the center of the Christian ceremonial feast was an airy bread that needed to be made from wheat And the dark breads made with local grains in Europe became associated with Paganism, and were abandoned as territories came under the control of Christendom Historical patterns of serial agriculture, argues Jones, follow the shifting boundary between Pagan and Christian Europe Under the culinary sign of the Eucharists, wheat bread came to symbolize civilization And that association endured through the Protestant Reformation, which altered everything else about communion, but not wheat as an ingredient So wheat followed Christian settlers around the world If Jones is even– if he’s even partially correct about that, his account suggests that a religious feast has shaped one pathway by which humans are now changing the climate The bread of daily tables following the cultural preferences developed in the symbolic world of the communion table Wheat agriculture now terraforms huge swaths of the Earth’s surface, which in turn influences how the planet regulates thermal energy That does not mean that climate change is a direct consequence of the New Testament any more than it is of eating meat It just illustrates that modern paths of agricultural production can be

shaped by a culinary aesthetic that was, in turn, shaped by connections of food and religious identity And of course, that culinary aesthetic was also influenced by the interests of industrial agriculture So we get germless, long-shelf-life Wonder Bread To be clear, I am not saying that Christianity is to blame for Wonder Bread I’m saying that if Jones is right, Wonder Bread was made possible by a cultural affinity for wheat that was elevated by the Christian feast And the possibility of us sharing a derisive laugh at Wonder Bread has been opened, I think, by newer and different feasts The developing connections of food and identity in the emergence of what’s called the alternative food movement which is happening around the world There seems to be this remarkable rethinking of our food systems through a kind of political [INAUDIBLE],, the slow food movement in Europe Food sovereignty, especially powerful in South America and sub-Saharan Africa, and indigenous political thinkers everywhere Locavorism and food justice in North America And, of course, there’s been new interest in long-standing vegetarian and vegan options, around which all matter of further qualifiers may gather– free range, organic, non-GMO, fair trade, animal welfare certified, bird-friendly, forest-fed, heirloom, heritage, paleo So we’re living in this time of remarkable political and cultural interest in food, not only among foodies, but among social reformers of many sorts Books about the meaning of food are bestsellers And the most famous of the food writers, Mike Pollan, suggests that what unites these many movements is a shared recognition that the industrial food system is unhealthy and unsustainable And the various ways that movements have developed that basic criticism– they’re forced to revisit [INAUDIBLE] of identity and inherited foodways– maybe disrupting them, maybe repairing them It’s not an accident, I think, that Pollan’s own book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is dense with a quasi-religious vocabulary Pollan refers to the karmic price of a meal, to industrial agriculture in terms of a fall, to local food and redemption tropes And he closes the book by describing his perfect meal in terms of purification, grace, sacrament, and karma, again It’s confusing But I think he’s reaching for a religious metaphor because he’s trying to give expression to the depth of meaning at stake in changing foodways Patricia Storace, commenting in the New York Review of Books about the spate of recent publications on food, writes that “what makes the new range in possibility in writing about food exciting is that we’re witnessing a rare tectonic shifting of a deeply rooted aesthetic and moral hierarchy.” Storace remembers that Confucius cultivated manners in eating as a philosophy of life because for him, the practice of eating was a microcosm of how humans should govern themselves in the world That helps explain why intentional departures from the conventional table manners, culinary arts, or agricultural habits of a society can disrupt entire cultural regimes Ways of eating often connect cultivation of self with governance of nature As food movements ask us to rethink inherited foodways, they make work to reassess the cosmologies carried by those foodways The counter-cultural turn away from germless, monocrop wheat products to whole, heritage grains is part of a generational reversal in North America Many now actually disdain white bread and associate dark bread with health, and perhaps especially the bread that tastes of local yeast, that are made from ancient grains What drives that kind of change? OK, Bon Appetit drives part of that change, yes But there may be some aspect of what Storace is describing as this tectonic shift in deeply-rooted moral hierarchy The causes of [INAUDIBLE] in the food movement– there are many, obviously They’re contextually diverse One aspect that I’m interested in is this anxiety about planetary health So we’ve just seen that the food system puts a lot of pressure on the planet And the pressure runs the other way, too One of the most serious threats of climate change is to growing food When climate scientists benchmark temperature changes in the 10,000-year period of human agriculture, they are signalling that the set of ecological conditions in which human agriculture developed is now vulnerable to the implications of having a farmer planet As climate change exerts that kind of biophysical pressure, it also exerts cultural pressure For example, the idea–

just the idea of anthropogenic climate change destabilizes North American imaginations of nature It signifies, as Bill McKibben famously put it, the end of nature! Because, in US environmental thinking, nature has been more natural and more valuable the more distant it is from humanity What made wilderness sacred to John Muir and the entire preservation ideal that followed after him was its utter difference from humanity And in an era of pervasive anthropogenic influence over Earth, the conceptual icon for environmental politics can no longer be that nature of pristine wilderness We’re compelled, for better or worse, to think of hybrid natures– always in relation to humans And while it would have outraged Muir, the wilderness mystic who was always kind of embarrassed about his farming– while it would have outraged him, the conceptual icon in US nature writing seem to be shifting from wilderness to food and farming In his book After Nature, Jedediah Purdy, [? a legal ?] scholar at Duke, argues that one reason why food activism has become a site of reformist political attention is because it allows environmental thought to reckon with key uncertainties of a life in Anthropocene “Rather than the politics of protected areas, the next politics of nature,” writes Purdy, “will be something different and more intense– active responsibility for the world we make and for the ways of life that world fosters or destroys.” As climate change puts pressure on our ideas of natures and culture, food offers a synecdoche of its basic challenge It’s responsibility for a human-made world in which we nonetheless, as hungry animals, remain [? utterly ?] [INAUDIBLE] So reforming foodways, it offers the possibility of experimenting with new vocabularies in nature– for making biocultural lexicons in which things can be both special and produced, both sacred and cultivated– both wild and farmed, maybe It makes sense, then, that agricultural tropes begin showing up in climate discourse Thinking about climate engineering proposals, the climate scientist Mike Hulme has proposed that we think in agricultural terms We cultivate land– agriculture We cultivate the sea– aquaculture So now we must recognize that we have begun to cultivate the sky– weatherculture, he proposes The metaphor of cultivation, thinks Hulme, opens a better way of thinking about the human relationship with the atmosphere As with agriculture, the question is not if humans should be involved with it, but what the criteria are for good involvements, which includes deciding what kind of human-climate relationship we want The intersection itself is not a problem With care, a product can be beautiful and sustained The problem with the current human involvement with the atmosphere is that it is haphazard, wasteful, dangerous, unjust, and finally, tasteless- everything you don’t want in the food system So perhaps now, with the mention of climate engineering, you’re beginning to feel some hesitation about this post-natural shift Think of planetary ecology in terms of agriculture If climate change– sorry If climate engineering is an implication of this shift from wilderness to agriculture as a place to think about our environments, should we really embrace the idea of cultivating the planet? Hulme is not himself arguing for climate engineering, but he’s saying, we cannot simply reject it as unnatural However we want to meet the climate challenge, it’s going to require an acknowledgement of the human role in the planet– one in which humans co-produce Earth’s atmosphere Is farming really the sort of relationship with Earth that we want? Several leading teams of Earth scientists have called for reclaiming ecological research and policy within the concept of planetary stewardship, to move away from protecting benchmarks of pure nature toward actively designing planetary systems And they appeal to the steward– that classic figure of good farming, where it suggests he has a productive responsibility Agrarian models of relations appear ideal Careful collaborations of humans and land seem especially attractive to this post-natural ecological thinking, which is maybe one reason why writer like Wendell Berry and Vandana Shiva have captured the interest of so many, that they make good farming into an emblem of resistance to industrial exploitation In the bio-cultural collaborations through which we make food, think Shiva and Berry, we become violent or caring, exploitative or just

And Hulme extends that thought to cultivating climate Rather than putting science, economics, and politics of the planet at the center of the story of climate, said the scientist, I’m suggesting that we put our self-understanding of human purpose and virtue at the center The basic point here is that the ecological significance of food systems goes far beyond the carbon footprint and the [INAUDIBLE] Food systems reproduce ideas about humanity’s purpose and character in the order of things Eating is a kind of cultural act, Wendell Berry has famously said The rest of his work explains how agriculture inscribes into Earth’s body the stories of who people are The health of the lands from which eat, for Berry, depicts the implications of the stories by which we interpret ourselves and our relations In other words, eating is a cosmological act too It’s world-making and self-shaping He says in that way we might think of alternative food movements as involved in tasks of cosmological reordering as they respond to planetary pressures As food movements develop new vocabularies of ethical light with nature, maybe they move from stewardship to permaculture, or from settling to unsettling, or from food security to food sovereignty As they do that, they reset the biocultural context for what Hulme calls our self-understanding of human purpose and virtue So, to be clear, I’m not arguing that foodways offer solutions for planetary health I’m suggesting that they are a context in which people may reinterpret what health means, for us and for the ecologies that we are producing with Earth Various food ethics carry imaginations of ecological health and of human purposes in cultivating it Those ecologists with which I began, the ones that are connecting agriculture and planetary systems, they set the health parameters by the minimal safe operating space sustaining the current form of civilization, which definitely seems prudent But it does suggest a possible range in either direction And we might refer to cultivating a planet with living coral reefs, for example, which is not included in the parameters of Tilman and Clark, or with [INAUDIBLE] the landscape, or maybe with polar bears even Or, in the other direction, we might prefer the planet as terraformed for monocrops, optimized for energy capture with biotic communities redesigned to serve the systems where their product could be maximized by markets and distributed by plutocratic demand, which is pretty much the planet that our food system is actually now making As we understand our cuisines to be entangled with planetary systems, our culinary responses may interpret how we imagine repairing relations with Earth The chef Dan Barber has argued for a cuisine that expresses all the ecological relations of the landscapes, that moves beyond ingredients to serve the relations of a working landscape So the example there is a parsnip steak served with the bread made from a cover crop and an amount of animal protein proportionate to what the soil can sustain Barber says of this plate that rooted in the natural world, it becomes a blueprint for one big farm, forever in flux, connected to a larger community, narrated by a cook through his food So Barber is unusual among chefs for the way that his cuisine attempts to explicitly interpret ecological health And his third plate offers a, I think, to what might be happening in my opening case of the eco-halal That alternative food way may not become a site for adherence to work through uncertainties in the relation of Islam to a changing Earth, and being Muslim in the Anthropocene That’s happening in art, because climate change is putting pressure on every tradition and every culture to interpret how humans related to the planet Or to incorporate into their stories of purpose and character, some account of human relations with a human-changed Earth So I would not call Barber’s cuisine religious or just the same way as Islam, obviously But maybe it’s “relig-ish.” It carries cosmological depths It’s pushing leaders to reconsider their place and an order of things– their purposes and self-understanding So about this cultural turn from wilderness toward food, I’m arguing that foodways offer us sites for developing a post-natural politics of ecological health A politics in which humans have responsibility for cultivating the ecologies in which we care and [INAUDIBLE] independent If the shift from wilderness to food in environmental thought affects a larger intellectual shift, the needs of making moral sense of the Anthropocene,

then food may well be a site to rethink agriculture and conservation at once, like [INAUDIBLE] and the other scientists were suggesting we must In other words, these new arguments and the ethics of food may represent a tectonic shift from thinking of humanity as separate from nature, to rethinking humanity as entangled with biocultural relations [INAUDIBLE] Like I am celebrating a great discovery that just popped up on Dan Barber’s plate Let me quickly say that so many cultures, from so many time periods would join a thousand contemporary indigenous voices saying it was stupid to make up separate ideas of nature and culture in the first place And that [INAUDIBLE],, the contingent product of enlightened Europe, you are just now discovering has a civilizational debt [INAUDIBLE] They might be right “That was always the trouble with wilderness, that it reproduce a view of humans as separate from nature Only people who’s relation to the land was already alienated,” writes the historian of wilderness William Cronon, “could hold up wilderness as a model for human life and nature The imagination of wilderness recoils from anywhere humans have done something with their landscape– from cities, from domesticated animals, and especially from agriculture And it refuses infamously to see landscapes made by productive relations with indigenous peoples, through cultivated rainforests, for example So perhaps the icon for environmental thought has shifted toward food as people see models for living in urbanized environments and through productive work with landscapes and other creatures Foodways offer roots to a reconciled relation with land, toward imagining a mutual flourishing of Earth and humans.” OK Let me pause for a moment for some skeptical reconsideration here Can food movements really bear such deep cultural power? I have so far led you down a path that sends a dream of whole foods that can solve planet change by purchasing food with a better story about itself You can enjoy the $300 menu at Dan Barber’s restaurant and have the additional satisfaction of considering an act of radical politics Is this not [? just moralizing ?] elite consumption? Another critique of the turn towards food and agriculture and environmental thought holds that the focus has shifted from wild nature because the wild has already been lost The effort to protect land and create preserves and save the dangerous pieces has just been swamped by pervasive human degradation of planetary systems So with the wild gone, the green counter-cultural has retreated to defending the pastoral Or maybe it was there that similarly retreated to dining well, to an invasion of politics by gastronomy But maybe they’re exactly wrong Maybe nature needs defense more than ever Maybe giving in to the idea of the Anthropocene is just capitulation to a farmed planet, to the death warrant of polar bears and coral reefs Maybe the food movement has been colonized by the forces of consumptive capitalism, as so co-opted into another era of– a more intensified era of colonizing the planet Or a still deeper critique of the alternative food movement holds that while colonizing the planet, it may also reproduce the settler and colonial mindset that subconsciously warmed so many white readers to Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry in the first place Criticizing what she calls, “the unbearable whiteness of alternative food movements,” the food study scholar Julie Guthman writes that, “for some enthusiasts, the [INAUDIBLE],, they romanticize the American agrarian imaginary [INAUDIBLE] The explicitly racist ways in which historically American land has been distributed and labor has been organized.” Considering the way that Thomas Jefferson’s legacy has functioned in my own context, that seems plausible Some impulses to locavorism in Montpelier Piedmont in Virginia do indeed seem to be carried by mostly white nostalgia for a colonial fantasy land of self-reliant sustainable farms who have hardly ever existed, in part of the plantation-friendly policy that Jefferson himself supported In fact, Jefferson’s agrarian narrative of independent farmers at the bosom of democratic virtue repeatedly provide the moralization for breaking treaties and clearing lands for expansion of a white settler state– a settler state, itself still reliant on enslaving people for farm labor while decimating actual self-reliant indigenous food systems So, consumers reproduce that self-deception when we purchase culinary emblems of agrarian-themed food, instead of working to interrupt the food system that continues to depend on the structurally racist ways on exploited labor and continues to deplete and structurally set their ways in the soil for which everything lives

So the standard American diets from a food economy with a plantation mindset, while we dissenters eat from an agrarian economy with notions of virtue and food production have all along provided the moralization for exploited labor and stolen land Michael Twitty, in his amazing book, The Cooking Gene, writes that, “American foodways have only just begun to reckon with the violence done by plantation slavery How Americans eat, and with whom we eat are still shaped by the legacies of white supremacy.” Twitty is therefore– Twitter is not cautious, but Twitty is cautious, “toward emotionally white food with interest in reclaiming historical foodways,” because his culinary priority is, as he puts it, “food being a tool for repair within the walls of black identities.” And you can’t see the picture there, but it shows him on settling interest in historical foodways by reenacting the role of an enslaved plantation cook on plantations And he called it his Southern comfort food His performed point– the alternative foodways that may off for black Americans a way to resist ongoing cultural oppression, made of their adoption by white Americans, unintentionally contribute to that oppression It’s not just what we grow and what we eat, but what it means for who we are, in body and position as we are, and the many different histories from which we come So elite, foodie consumption is an easy target here But other aspects of the food movement can also deflate political confrontation with injustice For example, when the Food Justice Project supposes that their effective way to fight hunger in a food desert is to start a community garden, that can make it seem as if the main reason that children are hungry and sick in this country is because their families don’t grow food as they should, or at least that they’re food preferences are not yet fully virtuous But food deserts are not naturally occurring features of some landscapes, just in need of some urban homesteading, and they don’t reflect consumer preferences They are made scarcities They are a result, obviously, of food and water fleeing poverty and flowing toward wealth So maybe the reason the so many children are malnourished in this country is because their families have systematically impoverished And so if that’s true, then maybe realistically fighting childhood malnourishment requires intensifying conflict with a racist, plutocratic economy So maybe busying ourselves with community gardens and nutrition classes just reinforces this idea that unhealth in our food system is attributable to ignorant choices, to vice And if only more people read Michael Pollan’s, Food Rules we’d be better If only people read those scientists, the planetary help, with which I began, as they should, and then turned to eat more plants– if only they knew If only they made better better choices then our personal health and our planetary health would be better So you can see the line, the critique The problem is ecological foodieism is not just that it’s totally affluent or it’s more culturally attracted to white people It’s that it imagines political ecologies in ways that obscure injustice and naturalize privilege That’s a pretty tough, unsettling critique And I’m not going to fully rescue the food movement from it But– but, Twitty suggests in that comment about repairing black identity from the legacies of white supremacy by recovering heritage foodways That alternative food movements may also work to resist or repair systemic injustice The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has connected the field tomato to modern slavery and help revivify efforts for food worker justice The food sovereignty movements within indigenous networks have brought new attention to the way settler colonialism continues to disrupt indigenous food systems, and have made reclaiming those foodways a practice for indigenous collective survival In sub-Saharan Africa, the food sovereignty movement has mobilized attention to the great land grab happening across the global south, as corporate and cultural producers from northern hemispheres seek to lock in land and water resources, partially in response to climate uncertainties created by the global [? agricultural ?] system So you can see how adaptations to climate change can re-inscribe the naturalized or [INAUDIBLE] it’s caused by climate change So even flow food– even slow food has serious political roots Carlos Petrini, the Italian founder of the slow food movement has actually called for a gastronomy of liberations, which he says entails liberation from unevenness, oppressions and violence perpetuated on environmental people– the scandal of hunger and malnutrition The Italian scholar of slow food, [? Sarah ?] [INAUDIBLE]—- she traces the back-story of the slow food eaters, interpreting landscapes as a record of violence suffered

by the rural poor, overlaid by violence suffered through industrial transformation With no romantic nostalgia toward agrarian past, it seeks liberation from the violences written into the body of the land, and the body of its core She writes, “Slow food in Europe is the claim for food justice, which means justice for the people that eat the food, justice for the communities that produce it, justice for the land that sustain the production, and justice for the biosphere that enables these processes and eventually absorbs their effects.” And she observes that in New York state, slow food participants like Colin repeat the [INAUDIBLE] slogan, the pleasure is political, without actually tending to the movement’s politics This possibility of slowly, deeply, countering violences long accumulated and inscribed into our land I find especially helpful in this dark period of a US democratic justice and environmental policy Legacies of white supremacy and planetary environmental problems are overwhelming enough without having to confront actual white supremacists or cynical climate politics of our current administration Reforming foodways can work upstream from those politics Which is not to say, obviously [INAUDIBLE] we can eat well and call it hope It’s to say that the table is a political gathering and a biological assembly In the social and ecological relations we convene there at our tables And in the stories into which we incorporate them, we may be able to remember and begin to repair the violences that we inherit The politics of climate change are difficult, not just because of their capture by fossil fuel interests Planetary problems unfold within systems and relations that no individual directly causes or experiences And this makes them difficult for our political imaginations or our moral imaginations to get its mind around Humanity is causing radiative forces in the atmosphere, but no one in particular does that And the experience of its consequences are perceptible only through probabilistic interpretations unfolding in non-linear way across unfamiliar scales of space and time This is the rise of humanity as an agent or planetary change as divorced from the agency that we have in our everyday world lives And so it can seem to overwhelm us at the ordinary scale The philosopher Bruno Latour says, “People are not equipped with the mental and emotional repertoire to deal with such a vast scale of events They have difficulty submitting to such a rapid acceleration, for which in addition they’re supposed to feel responsible, while in the meantime this call for action has none of the traits of their older revolutionary dreams.” That’s maybe one reason why it’s hard to get people to work on climate change You’re asking people to get involved with a problem that can’t be solved And it can’t be solved at the level in which they can act I’m teaching a class right now– an undergraduate class on climate ethics And I don’t think they realize how hard the ask really is I’m asking them to be committed to a problem that they can’t solve in their lifetime So in this very historical moment that humans learn that our powers have made us responsible for the planet, we ourselves overwhelmed by the scales of [INAUDIBLE] involved And so we may feel powerless to exercise responsibility Food is different No one has to convince you that dinner is a problem, or that you need to take responsibility for it, or that there are ways of successfully doing so You’re probably working on that problem right now, with an increasingly large amount of your mind, wondering what you’re going to have for dinner and when is this lecture going to end And what will be left for me to eat after the lecture? Precisely because food is so basic and everyday, intimately involved in the stories that shape our identities, foodways offer arenas in which to enact agency, to interpret complex systems Whereas the ability to act meaningfully seems undermined by global structures, overwhelmed by planetary systems, food choices remain a site of relative freedom It’s hard, almost impossible to escape fossil energy, but ordinary persons may come to sense in a food chose, the opportunity to choose between biocultural systems of sustenance Which I think is why all those qualifying aggregators– the bird-friendly and fair trade and paleo– why did they become important? Because they’re offering choices between an industrial metabolism and some other alternative metabolism And meanwhile, precisely because food is a material driver of planetary systems and global structures, doing things with food can be used to register discontent with the systems that seem to undermine malignancy They allow eaters to affiliate with alternatives They allow producers to participate

in networks of responsibility like fair trade, or to envision entirely different civilizational arrangements, which I think is basically what permaculture does The discontent– that’s not just a possibility for affluent consumers The political theorist David Schlosberg and Romand Coles argue that, “such a practical discontent should not be seen as a post-material supportance for the wealthy.” Focusing on food desert projects in Detroit, they argue that by seeking, “different material circulations of sustenance, some food movements enact different possibilities of political circulation, even different human-earth relations.” They call that prefigurative politics, a way of practices disbelief in the main channels of circulation by organizing and performing alternatives So these food movements, they don’t necessarily represent the invasion of politics, but neither do they have to explain how they can be immediately scaled up to a feasible solution Because the point is there are sites where individuals and communities are dissenting from some biocultural system and imagining alternative metabolisms I think you could interpret permaculture especially that way The anthropologist of morality, Mary Mattingly talks about everyday life as a moral laboratory where sometimes, “the quotidian places of life becomes sites where we invent new possibilities, just in the little problems that we face– places where we vent an expansion of political agency Places deep in the moral imagination, in the face of challenges that maybe overwhelm our cognition Places to take our cultural tool kits and the possibilities of our inherited soils and acknowledging all of the [INAUDIBLE] cultivating the possibilities for them I’m going to close by returning to this case of eco-halal In the course of making an argument that her fellow Muslims should become vegetarian, Kecia Ali, from nearby Boston University argues that, “People who allow concern for animals and ecology appropriately diminishes the performance of authentic Muslim identity, while nonetheless elevating interest in how food practices construct a habitually virtuous self,” which on her interpretation is the primary goal of being Muslim Islamic identity is not sublimated to the planetary on the view, because for Ali the tradition contextualizes the development of globally concerned food practices within distinctly Muslim habits of self-scrutiny, hospitality, moderation within Muslim virtues So the particular moral practices that produced an Islamic self incorporate planetary relation And the fact that they have a broader context for developing a virtuous person guard against some of those liabilities to which I’ve just suggested food movements are exposed So the self-scrutiny, the hospitality and moderation are moral habits that help prevent vegetarianism or any other alternative foodway from becoming a mere consumer identity or grounds for elitist judgement of non-vegetarians And they are ideally what separates eco-halal vegetarian practice from other forms of vegetarianism So what Ali suggests– if I can extend her argument more generally, is that one way to cultivate durable disbelief in the moral economy or dominant foodways is to locate alternative practices in some relatively comprehensive understanding of the purposes of a life– on that includes some vision of appropriate biocultural relations with others, including other animals, landscapes, and maybe Earth, and maybe even God And so now you think, here comes the stinky religious conclusion Yeah, I’m not arguing that you have to have conventional religious beliefs in order to situate foodways in that broader account of a human life and its purposes But I am suggesting that doing so, insofar as foodways do that, is an exercise of an existential dimension that could be aptly described as religious or “relig-ish.” And although they come into view especially clearly when we see someone– an Islamic scholar like Kecia Ali do it, the depths of moral and political interpretation that I have in mind happened in accounts that don’t think themselves to be religious And I’ll close with these two The scholar of [INAUDIBLE],, Graham Harvey, argues that, “Religion is not about identifying cognitive beliefs anyway Religion is,” he says, “fundamentally how people negotiate what to eat, with whom to have sex and how to treat strangers.” In fact, Harvey speculates that the first everyday problem from which archaic religion arose was the awkward meeting of some beings to eat other beings Religion arose, Harvey is arguing, as a cross-species [INAUDIBLE] of eating A way of negotiating the taking of life And now food practices– modern alternative food practices

might be trying to develop new forms of cross-species [INAUDIBLE] In particular, ritual gratitude for the creatures who become our food may give them a place at our table as participants And it’s possible to consider some alternative foodway that way It’s possible to consider locavorism and animal-friendly food in a post-humanist, pre-religious way, as commensality with landscapes, with animals, and with a relationship with the living world In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, which arises from an intersection of indigenous thinking and academic biology, the Potowatomi scholar Robin Wall Kimmerer writes of a practical reverence cultivated in certain indigenous ways of sustenance She goes on to say that practical reverence is a first step toward learning the grammar of [INAUDIBLE],, which she holds as necessary for the new peoples living on this continent Indigenous languages and practices have great aptitude for that grammar,” she says But Kimmerer, in what is a controversial form of generosity, suggests that, “Immigrant cultures to Turtle Island,” to North America, “may also learn it, even in their own grammatically impoverished languages, and so begin to become not native, but naturalized to this place Being naturalized of place,” she writes, “means to live as if this is the land that feeds you As if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and feed your spirit.” So if Harvey and Kimmerer are on to something, then certain foodways may begin to do deep work in the cultural headwaters upstream from our climate politics They can be practices that let the land work on our moral imaginations in which relations with other creatures can begin to make claims on us They can unsettle the stories settler people tell ourselves And they can name the violence we inherit from slavery One step, or a kind of dark hope in these early days of the Anthropocene Even living in an America [INAUDIBLE] whose powers are largely celebrated by the dominant religion there lies the possibility of practical reverence, of cultivating gratitude and knowledge and beauty at our tables So I think this space between the ethics of food and the health of the planet do some work for us in a way that excavates the potential for intentional food practices to do biocultural work But I’m not suggesting that a particular diet or a particular food ethic is the solution to planetary problems I’m pedalling any solutions, dietary or religious I’ve just argues that alternative foodways offer the potential, at least the analogy of a potential that we need to interpret our inheritances of cultural violence and to experiment with growing new things from the soil Thanks for listening [APPLAUSE] So we have– Javier and Andrea have the mics If you have a question for our speaker, if you could raise your hand and I’ll sort of point to you and they will bring a mic to you [INAUDIBLE] So you briefly mentioned how there’s correlation between an increasing income and the amount of meat that people kind of demand Yeah I was wondering if you have a [INAUDIBLE] correlation between [INAUDIBLE] and veganism or that paleo diet? So if you have kind of that idea that as you have more disposable income, you can actually afford the three dollars for the actual organic fruit, or you can buy these fancy ingredients that [INAUDIBLE] have created for better diet– is that correlation– do you have ideas how it would be possible to bring that type of eating into these areas that you were talking about the path are very– they just don’t have the resources and they don’t have access to even just normal foods, how you can bring that type of healthy diet into those communities Yeah It’s a great question Certainly some parts of the alternative food movement do seem to rely on having a lot of resources Paleo and not always but often veganism, yes, [INAUDIBLE]

But not other parts of food movements So food sovereignty is [INAUDIBLE] formed in different areas But that often is actually trying to get away from the financialization of food But to your good question about– OK, so what to do about lack of access to healthy, good food? And the rub– the rub which you rightly point is that it looks like the kind of food that learned people say ought to be available both for personal health and planetary health is simply too expensive And so then it looks like it’s moralism So I think I– I don’t have a solution for that I have two things to say about it One is that the reason that– often the reason that good food is more expensive and bad food less expensive is because bad food is subsidized So the bad group is not paying its full cost It’s not paying its full cost in human health It’s not paying its full cost in planetary health It’s just not paying its full economic health So it’s unnaturally low The price is unnaturally low, which makes it more rational to eat it So, OK, that’s a big problem And then our farm bill basically reproduces that problem And that’s probably– any [INAUDIBLE] of a resolution to the kind of problem that we’re talking about has to happen in that macroeconomic way And then on the other side of that is, I described the planetary situation of families experiencing food insecurity in a kind of sharp way– systematically impoverished Insofar as you agree with that, then however you think about the remedies for systematic impoverishment would also be part of making good food available I mean, it’s a good question [INAUDIBLE] Thank you for your talk I’d like [INAUDIBLE] in ethical terms and aesthetic or “relig-ish” or any ways that you want to talk about the impossible burger That’s another debate I don’t know What do you think about that? What do you think? [INAUDIBLE] OK But I didn’t know [INAUDIBLE] talking about that [INAUDIBLE] about that Yeah It’s really interesting And then a possibility of– well, two possibilities I mean, they’re basically plant-based realistic alternatives for what people want when they want meat And is there possibility for animal flesh that does not involve killing animals So that’s interesting So there’s like two tracts to try and get away from the problem of food products which eliminate animals And I guess I would say I’m cautiously interested in both I don’t have the recoil from it that some people do Some people recoil from both of those, some people especially from the kind of biotech animal tissue that doesn’t involve an animal growing in animal protein I think those are really– they’re interesting It’s hard to imagine how– what’s hard to imagine for me is how did those foods become part of a culturally important foodway such that they are [INAUDIBLE]? That’s probably because my imagination is slightly [INAUDIBLE] I don’t see how that would happen But it very well could, right? I mean, other crazy foods have been invented that are now widespread And often they were [INAUDIBLE] I mean, tofu– its history is in Buddhist monasteries And there was a reason we went through the trouble of inventing this kind of weird food that then becomes basically more or less a staple in food societies Right So something like that could happen What do you think? Well, I have mixed feeling about it I guess the one part of it that troubles me is the– there’s a whole tradition of vegetarianism which associates it with non-violence And the thing about that burger– because I actually was served one without knowing what it was and started eating it And then after how many years? 40 years of being vegetarian, it was an unsettling experience [INAUDIBLE] The blood and the– so that it really is kind of trying to reproduce in some ways the sort of violence of eating flesh So I wonder about that That is such an interesting thing Because– oh, well, [INAUDIBLE]

But I’m interested in the ways that there are forms of vegetarianism that are deeply rooted in non-violence And sometimes the non-violence is holistic So it’s even kind of a withdraw from, or a negative evaluation of violence in nature, suffering predation If [INAUDIBLE] was up here Yes [INAUDIBLE] maybe better theological things to say about violence in nature So [INAUDIBLE] of this can carry you, this negative evaluation of violence in nature, or violence in society And so yeah, then if you have a plant-based burger that is nonetheless trying to give you a bloody experience, what happens for your moral formation? I don’t know Some psychologists would want to run some experiments on that Thank you for your talk I think a lot of the issues that we have within our food system may come from problems with the food industry itself And I’m just wondering how you may stress pushing back against big food companies that have a financial incentive to continue producing, maybe foods that are unhealthy for [INAUDIBLE] Yeah Right What do thing? I don’t know Do you have any ideas? [INAUDIBLE] Yeah Well that’s one thing Right And that’s Marion Nestle’s response, basically who’s written the book on food politics and the influence of the food industry, both over eaters and over our policy environment And of course her main view is that you simply have to intervene with better political structures But her secondary view is, you vote with your fork And so you can– if enough of you do it, realign your incentives So that’s one thing I’m interested in it, without suggesting that’s the a solution and hope there, but I’m interested in what happens in alternative food movements that are not interested in reforming the dominant food system, [INAUDIBLE] creating [INAUDIBLE] from the ground up And people do that in lots of different ways And I think part of the reason they want to do that is because it’s a vote of distrust in the standard American food system Right And insofar as more people associate the standard food system, not only with unhealth, but with planetary decline or with political violence or with exploitative labor, that creates a more difficult financial environment for them, which might [INAUDIBLE] in viable foods So I think the market will respond Right The market will respond to ethical and aesthetic food preferences And then there’s this constant– you even see it in food movements There’s this constant, unsettled negotiation of how they’re going to interact with the industry side of [INAUDIBLE],, which is probably always the contextual pragmatic negotiation We have one more question Someone back there Hi You mentioned some of the labels around religious– like the [INAUDIBLE] and halal and those things, and even the influence of what church-goers eat and how that played a role in wheat farming Yeah So, what space do you think that there might be for these moral institutions of religious order to influence our eating habits? The pope put out [INAUDIBLE],, his document talking about climate change Right So there you have millions of followers, right So what opportunity do you think there might be for these moral institutions to kind of shift our cultural eating habits? So I’m interested in the outcome of that question And I noticed with [INAUDIBLE] that he’s recommending different particular practical actions One of them is the table grace, as being an especially important response to global ecological problems He didn’t have a lot to say about dietary practices, and not much about eating meat, for example, which could well go in that same section But I think, yeah, it definitely makes an impact on the culinary register of many people when some very significant religious authority,

or like the Dalai Lama, who sometimes talks about food and the compassionate life, such that I don’t know that it makes people change their ways OK, so the pope said it, and so therefore I’m going to stop eating burgers as much But I do think it’s possible that in a deeper way, the hamburger just becomes seen as less innocuous and more caught in the political and social things that religious communities are trying to [INAUDIBLE] against I see we have one more questions and we’ll finish with here Can you pass the mic up here Yeah We actually had it in someone’s hand back here Oh, you do? Did someone else have a question? Yeah OK I have a question I was curious– you were talking about the way that foodways are almost a manifestation of identity They build this idea of self a lot of the times, if one believes they might meet in a moral or ethical sense Yeah And so, I’m kind of curious, throwing in the pressure and the motivation of the economic evaluation into that, in how food is economically valued And in general, can it be economically valued? We talk about this kind of driver And the economy is a huge part of this question, brought up earlier how it is an incentive to purchase certain kinds of foods So I’m wondering in this kind of bridging the gap, I suppose, how people have economic perspective on valuation in the building of one’s self in the way that they [INAUDIBLE] and the way that they build food in respect to the way that they put an economic value on that food Yeah Yes OK That’s a naughty problem It’s really interesting Right So, OK So I’m saying that food can be a site for moral formation and even identity formation You’re saying, well, yeah, but food is also a consumer product Right And so people have to spend money on this And that’s not going to be caught up just with their ideas about food, and even aside whatever kind of constraints they have It’s also going to be caught up with their ideas about what is an appropriate amount of money to spend on fashioning my identity Yes Very good point So [INAUDIBLE] what I found especially helpful– why I turned to Kecia Ali and why I found her especially helpful is she’s placing the alternative foodway– vegetarianism for her– within the broader context of the moral ecology of Islam So the virtues that she thinks are at the heart of what the formation of Muslim identity is about And so it nests that inside it And then you have the weighing way of evaluating what is appropriate and inappropriate, proper and improper, attention to this site of identity formation Because otherwise, yes, Americans are very good at just creating another form of consumerist identity forms Yeah So maybe we’ll pause officially here, but I think that he might willing to take a few– Yeah –questions after Before we wrap up, just a couple of very quick announcement about upcoming events in the Park Street series Our next event is actually cosponsoring the Lowell series So it will actually take place on a Wednesday– unusual for us Natasha Trethewey will be coming to speak on beyond Katrina, Wednesday March 14th, which is just after the break And then our final speaker in the series is Nikki Silvestri, who’ll be speaking about healthy soil and healthy bodies But please join me now in warmly thanking our speaker for tonight [APPLAUSE]