A Haas Major & the UC Berkeley Food Movement

1964 demonstration in front of Sproul Hall against a campus rule banning students from engaging in political activities

1964 demonstration in front of Sproul Hall against a campus rule banning students from engaging in political activities

Berkeley has been known for a long time as a school where social thought starts, grows, gets repressed, rises back up, and on and on and on.  I feel like as students who are living amongst it we can be trained to ignore it.  With great causes littering Sproul, the reverse effect can likely take hold; where there is too much good to be done that we never start at all.  Why bother, right?  Spend five minutes educating yourself on an issue feels real good your first few days at Cal, but as we get older, the ten-minute “Berkeley time” passing period becomes the last time you would want to chit-chat with some radical hippy.

While the vast majority of UC Berkeley causes are worth the time and energy, one particularly caught my interest, so much so that I have chosen to feature it in this article.  It is the food movement, and how it is manifesting itself at Cal.  Although the title might suggest otherwise, I am not involved past being an admiring observer and an eager pair of ears.

The food movement may be tough to pinpoint so I will (over) use the famous Supreme Court quote, “I know it when I see it.”  Generally put, the food movement at Cal is made up of students, campus groups, and even professors who are vegans, vegetarians, locavores, organics, urban farmers, anti agro-business, etc.  They all have their niche, and while some might say that local food is the most important, and others vegan food, or still others un-processed foods, they are all getting at the same problem.  We as a society have become disconnected from the source of our food, and due to monocultures, large corporations, lobbying, marketing, genetic modification, etc., we could say that we might even be in denial about the reality of the most important thing that we put into our bodies.

Organic gardening is growing rapidly at UC Berkeley and across the country

Organic gardening is growing rapidly at UC Berkeley and across the country

Food is such and interesting topic these days because it is everything and it is nothing at the same time.  Every bite can be considered insignificant or collectively dooming.  When we pick up our forks, we vote on how important our health is, what kind of food we want available, how much pollution we tolerate in the atmosphere, and a host of other variables.  As time has progressed humans have spent less and less time and money in food procurement.  The instant coffee and microwavable (insert food name here) we wolf down in the morning is nothing like what our forefathers were eating for breakfast… or even our parents.  There is a lot of public discussion about the links between our food system and increased cancer rates, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and the list goes on.

When it comes to food, is it better to know, or is ignorance bliss?

When it comes to food, is it better to know, or is ignorance bliss?

I promised myself that I would not use this post as a forum (likely too late) as I am no where near educated enough on these issues to properly expand on the buzz-topics that I just laundry-listed.  Getting into the excessive amounts of data on the subject can feel a lot like going down the ‘red-pill’ rabbit hole in the matrix.  That said, a few food-related groups that I have become involved in on campus have captivated me.  I want to use this blog to briefly review a few really cool food related causes and group here on campus.  It is very important that as Haas students we remember to keep our eyes and ears open around the rest of the campus, and I hope that this article can promote a few causes that I really agree with.

Defining Principals moment: Educating ourselves about these topics in the coming years will be a necessary way to be a student always, and ‘voting with our forks’ is a way in which we clearly challenge the status quo.  Lastly, the global impact of a more sustainable and less resource-intensive system is clearly a way that we can go beyond ourselves, and take care of the world we live in.

Raj Patel and Michael Pollan

Edible Education Q&A with Raj Patel and Michael Pollan

The first thing that is happening is the Edible Education course here at Cal, taught by Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma 2007) and Raj Patel (Stuffed and Starved 2012).  I was lucky enough to add this course and had no idea what I was getting into.  I have been a vegetarian for stretches of my life (the most lasting of which I am in now), and the description sounded interesting.  It has absolutely blown me away!  It is sponsored by Alice Waters’ foundation, Edible Schoolyard, and has brought in some phenomenal lecturers.  All lectures, both from current talks and past semesters are on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD9B56072DD4CCE0E.  Much like the groups I mentioned on campus, the speakers are also united in their differences.  One week we have scientists, another week we have journalists, organic farmers, Alice Waters herself, and Pollan and Patel have spoken as well.  The best part of it all though, is that they reserve 200 free tickets for the public simply to be reserved (they “sell” out fast), at the link below.  I hope to see you there. http://www.eventbrite.com/o/the-edible-schoolyard-project-6065699745

A flyer for the March 5th "Pack the Albany City Hall" event, where citizens will continue to fight for a small piece of what is left of local farmland in the Bay Area.  6:30pm Albany City Hall.  See you there!

A flyer for the March 5th “Pack the Albany City Hall” event

Next is the Gill Tract occupation.  This is a complicated issue that I think I should be careful ‘summarizing.’  That said, it is a food related example of what has given Berkeley it’s reputation all along.  There is a 20-acre piece of land owned by UC Berkeley that is suitable for urban farming.  There was a proposal by Whole Foods and assisted living companies to develop the land, and just recently, public pressure and protests stopped this.  These pressures were non-violent and were hardly protests at all.  What they were was people clearing the land, and planting food.  The fight is not over as Sprouts is planning to pick up the request where Whole Foods left off.  A video that they have produced sums it up better than I can, and it is ABSOLUTELY worth a watch.

An added issue of the Gill Tract is that it will likely be the location of the proposed UC Berkeley food systems major.  Other UCs have more extensive community gardens and food related study.  With what is going on at Cal it will be tough for the administration to ignore the pressure for a more formal food-related education.  If the Gill Tract were to be kept by UC Berkeley it would be the obvious location to start this field of study.

A few other key groups are:

  1. Haas’ own Culinary Group- which has a bunch of cool trips and events throughout the semester (which unfortunately I just now found out about!) http://haas.campusgroups.com/culinary/web_page?url_name=about&club_url2=culinary
  2. SOGA- Student Organic Gardening Association, which has free garden hours on the weekends at our UC Berkeley community Garden. https://www.facebook.com/soga.garden?fref=ts
  3. The Berkeley Student Food Collective- A membership collective providing local organic food in a store front close to campus. http://berkeleystudentfoodcollective.org/

The reality of all of this is that nobody is faultless.  Until we are all living on one acre eating lettuce and potatoes without electricity, clothes, running water, communication, media, and might I add, dignity, there will always be someone out there telling you you are not doing enough.  Nobody is perfect, and I am the last to suggest I am.  That is part of the draw of this movement is that everyone finds a difference niche of the overall discussion,and any progress is good progress.  My goal at least, is finding implementable changes that cost me minimal time, money, and lifestyle change, but give the world, it’s animals, and my body massive rewards in longevity and health.  As I make small changes, bigger ones get easier.  The point of this article is less about discussing the issues and more about discussing the campus groups that are passionate about them.  It is an opportunity to participate in what makes Berkeley Berkeley.

I apologize for the stream of consciousness, but I felt that this would come off better if I just let it flow out.  I have not gotten up out of my chair since starting.  I hope I don’t look back on this article as a foolish submission, but it is important to me now, it is happening around us at Cal, and I truly believe it will become one of the biggest issue to face our generation in the future.  Watch the clip, click the links, and GET INFORMED!

2 thoughts on “A Haas Major & the UC Berkeley Food Movement

  1. Pingback: A Haas Major & the UC Berkeley Food Movement | Nathan Tudhope

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