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Ecological Literacy: Educating our Children for a Sustainable World available in Paperback
Our efforts to build a sustainable world cannot succeed unless future generations learn how to partner with natural systems to our mutual benefit. In other words, children must become “ecologically literate.” The concept of ecological literacy advanced by this book’s creators, the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California, goes beyond the discipline of environmental education. It aims, says David Orr in his foreword, “toward a deeper transformation of the substance, process, and scope of education at all levels”familial, geographic, ecological, and political.
The reports and essays gathered here reveal the remarkable work being done by the Center’s network of partners. In one middle school, for example, culinary icon Alice Waters founded a program that not only gives students healthy meals but teaches them to gardenand thus to study life cycles and energy flows. Other hands-on student projects described here range from stream restoration and watershed exploration to confronting environmental justice issues at the neighborhood level.
With contributions from distinguished writers and educators, such as Fritjof Capra, Wendell Berry, and Michael Ableman, Ecological Literacy reflects the best thinking about how the world actually works and how learning occurs. Parents and educators everywhere will find it an invaluable resource.
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Ecological LiteracyEducating Our Children for a Sustainable World
The University of California PressISBN: 1-57805-153-3
Chapter OneFast-Food Values and Slow Food Values * * * Alice Waters
Alice Waters is the founder and owner of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California. Named best restaurant in the United States by Gourmet magazine in 2001, Chez Panisse exemplifies her philosophy of serving the most delicious organic products, only when they are in season-the practice that has become known worldwide as California Cuisine. Over three decades, the restaurant has developed a network of local farmers and ranchers whose dedication to sustainable agriculture assures it a steady supply of pure and fresh ingredients. Waters is author of eight books, the most recent of which is Chez Panisse Fruit (2002).
The Edible Schoolyard (ESY), which Waters initiated in 1995 at Berkeley's Martin Luther King Middle School and for which the Center for Ecoliteracy was one of the initial funders, has played a central role in CEL's work with food in schools (see "Revolution Step-by-Step: On Building a Climate for Change" in Part III and "Sustainability-A New Item on the Lunch Menu" in Part IV). ESY has received international attention by demonstrating that garden experiencesand cooking classes can be integrated into a whole curriculum, and that the way to convince young people to eat nutritious food is not to lecture them, but to say, "Try this and see if it doesn't taste better."
In 1996 Waters created the Chez Panisse Foundation, with a mission to transform public education and to support projects that integrate gardening, cooking, daily lunches prepared on campus with fresh ingredients, and the core academic curriculum. In 2003 the Chez Panisse Foundation and the Berkeley Unified School District, partnering with the Center for Ecoliteracy and Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, entered into an agreement to design and implement a districtwide school lunch curriculum initiative.
Alice Waters is a vice president of Slow Food International, which she introduces here and which Maurice Holt invokes in the essay that follows hers. Slow Food describes its members as "eco-gastronomes," devoted to the pleasure that food brings, but also committed to maintaining respect for and a balance with nature, preserving the environment, and acting out of the conviction that their pleasure is connected with that of others, which leads them to do charity work in places where pleasure is hard to find. This essay, drawn from talks that Waters gives across the country and around the world, displays the clarity and depth of her thinking about what we can learn from food and what we can learn about ourselves from the ways we prepare, serve, and eat food.
NOT LONG AGO, I spotted a bumper sticker that said, "If you are what you eat, I'm fast, cheap, and easy." Is this really who we want to be? I don't think so, but we've been swallowed up by a fast-food culture that promotes and celebrates just those values.
The choices that each of us makes about food matter at every level. We may think that they're about our own good nutrition and our own personal pleasure, but they're really about the health of our entire society-in fact, they're about the health of human culture itself.
A cynic is supposed to be somebody who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. By that definition, we've turned into a nation of cynics, at least as far as our food supply goes. We have values, all right, but what are they? After Eric Schlosser wrote Fast Food Nation, I started thinking about the ubiquity of the fast-food culture. Drive through the suburbs of any American city, and what do you see? Mile after mile of franchises. It's hard not to feel that we're the victims of a giant conspiracy. In fact, industrial farming and fast food operate hand-in-glove, very much like a vast conspiracy. Together they suppress variety, limit our choices, and manipulate our desires by hooking us on sugar and salt.
What do our children learn from fast food? What lessons do they absorb when they eat a Happy Meal? What are the values that fast food inculcates in them? Here are some of the most important fast-food values and assumptions:
Food is cheap and abundant, and this abundance is permanent. We act as if we believe that because food is cheap and accessible to most Americans today, it will remain so without our having to change our ways of growing, selling, and preparing it. Food should be affordable and available, but the way we're going, to give just one example, California's Central Valley is going to lose its fertility within the next twenty or thirty years. Farmers know that living soil is precious and must be cared for and replenished, and that doing that isn't cheap. Fast food is cheap only because we haven't yet reckoned the real cost of farm subsidies, dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and depleted soil. We're only beginning to wake up to the health consequences of cheap food. A national diet heavy with processed foods and meat is leading to obesity and diabetes at record levels, and to a health crisis that we will still be paying for decades from now, in terms of health care costs and lost productivity.
Resources are infinite, so it's perfectly okay to waste. "There's always plenty more where that came from," our actions say. This glorification of disposability is reflected everywhere in our culture. But farmers and others who work intimately with food know that people are much more likely to think twice about whether or not they really need something if they have to dispose of it themselves.
Eating is primarily about fueling up in as little time as possible. We drive in, order, pick it up, eat it in the car, and dump what's left in the garbage can. Food is supposed to be fast and available twenty-four hours a day. And yet we all know, or should know, that anything worth doing takes time.
Meat, french fries, and sodas are actually good for us-and they should taste exactly the same everywhere. By our actions' logic, diversity is totally undesirable. But any nutritionist will say that what's really good in any diet is variety.
Where food comes from, or how fresh it is, doesn't matter. We act as if the seasons are of no particular consequence and the qualities of the places where the food is raised and where it is eaten are of no particular consequence. But the seasons connect us to nature. They punctuate the passage of time and they teach us about the impermanence of life-something that our society hasn't wanted to look at.
Advertising confers value. Better advertising means better food, says our behavior as consumers. Publicity denotes worth. Celebrity is the most virtuous quality of all. And yet we know that the ultimate sign of worth is not needing any advertising-something's value is self-evident, or we've discovered it by word of mouth from people we know and trust. And can we have forgotten that modesty was once a virtue?
Work is to be avoided at all costs. We treat preparation as drudgery. Besides, other people are better at it than we are. Cleaning up is drudgery, too. There are more important things to do. We have been told that work is here and pleasure is there. But in fact real pleasure comes from doing. Work can feed our imaginations and educate our senses. If somebody else does it all for us, we miss out on the real juice of life. Even the hard physical work we're so eager to delegate to others can change us for the better. I think it's terrible when people slave their whole lives in order to take a vacation somewhere on a cruise ship. They miss out on the pleasure that could be theirs every day if only they would pay attention to what they do and what they eat. The one thing we all have to do every day is eat, and the rituals of cooking and eating together constitute, in the words of Francine du Plessix Gray, our "primal rite of socialization, the core curriculum in the school of civilized discourse. The family meal ... is a set of protocols that curb our natural savagery and our animal greed, and cultivate a capacity for sharing and thoughtfulness" [Gray, p. 51]. These fast-food values permeate our homes, our institutions, and particularly our schools. They drive us away from the table. But they fly in the face of thousands of years of human experience growing, preparing, and eating as central expressions of life and community.
Slow Food Values
So what about anti-fast-food values? Is there a future for "slow food" values that make us aware of food's real costs? That tell us that real food should be available to everyone, rich and poor? That cooking and eating are not drudgery? That concentrating on a task is okay? That everything is woven together? Can we pass on to our children the magic of hospitality and generosity? Can we teach our children the values that transform our lives and the world around us? We can, but we must first change our attitudes toward food. As the growing Slow Food movement, with sixty thousand members in over one hundred countries, has demonstrated, food can teach us the things that really matter-care, beauty, concentration, discernment, sensuality, all the best that humans are capable of-but only if we take the time to think about what we're eating.
For me, life is given meaning and beauty by the daily ritual of the table-a ritual that can express tradition, character, sustainability, and diversity. These are values that I learned, almost unconsciously, at my family table as a child. But the family meal has undergone a steady devaluation from its place at the center of human life, when it was the daily enactment of shared necessity and ritualized cooperation. Today, as never before, the meals of children are likely to have been cooked by strangers, to consist of highly processed foods produced far away, and to be taken casually, greedily, in haste, and, all too often, alone.
Cultural institutions could honor the centrality of slow food values, but they often do the opposite. Fast-food values are pervasive and often appear where they least belong. Museums of natural history, for example, celebrate the astonishing diversity of world cultures, the beauty of human workmanship, and the wonders of nature. They even house impressive collections of artifacts relating to food: tools and depictions of hunting, foraging, agriculture, food preparation, and the hearth.
But in the museum cafeteria, crowds of people queue up in a poorly lit, depressing space as if in a diorama of contemporary life, surrounded by the unmistakable steam-table smell of precooked, portion-controlled food. In this marvelous museum, surrounded on all sides by splendid exhibits that celebrate the complexity of life and the diversity of human achievement, people appear to have stopped thinking when it comes to their very own everyday experiences. People appear to be oblivious that the cafeteria represents the antithesis of the values celebrated in the museum.
A museum cafeteria could delight the senses. It could be beautiful and could make its patrons think. It could serve delicious meals that teach where food comes from and how it is made. When diners return their trays, they could learn about composting and recycling. They could even have a little friendly human interaction, were the cafeteria designed to encourage it. The museum could inspire visitors to see the world in a different way. Instead it functions like a filling station.
Our system of public education operates in the same strange, no-context zone of hollow fast-food values. In school cafeterias, students learn how little we care about the way they nourish themselves-we've sold them to the lowest bidder. At best we serve our children government-subsidized agricultural surplus; at worst we invite fast-food restaurants to operate on school grounds. Soda machines line the hallways. Children need only compare the slickness of the nearest mall to the condition of their school and the quality of its library and its cafeteria to learn that our culture considers them more important as consumers than as students.
Still, the public school system is our last best hope for teaching real democratic values that can withstand the insidious voices of those who would have us believe that life is all about personal fulfillment and personal consumption. A slow food education is an opportunity that should be universally available. There are countless ways to weave a food program into the curriculum at every level of education. The depth and breadth of the subject-its relevance to ecology, anthropology, history, physiology, and art-assures that it could easily be integrated into the academic studies of every school, from the kindergarten to the university.
Change the food in the schools, and we can influence how children think. Change the curriculum and teach them how to garden and how to cook, and we can show that growing food and cooking and eating together give lasting richness, meaning, and beauty to our lives.
To do this will take the kind of dedication embodied by many of today's farmers. Thomas Jefferson had a vision of a nation of independent farmers. But it was Alexander Hamilton's vision of a nation of factories that prevailed. Maybe it's not too late to rethink our national purpose, after all. The ideals and the authenticity we've been craving in our lives still exist. We can still have them. They're not lost. They're right under our noses.
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Table of Contents
ForewordDavid W. Orr
Preface: How Nature Sustains the Web of LifeFritjof Capra
Zenobia Barlow and Michael K. Stone
PART I. VISION En'owkin: Decision-Making as if Sustainability Mattered
Jeannette C. Armstrong
Speaking Nature's Language: Principles for Sustainability
Solving for Pattern
The Power of Words
Fast-Food Values and Slow Food Values Alice Waters
The Slow School: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?
PART II. TRADITION/PLACE
Indian Pedagogy: A Look at Traditional California
Indian Teaching Techniques
Okanagan Education for Sustainable Living: As Natural as Learning to Walk or Talk Jeannette C. Armstrong
Place and Pedagogy
David W. Orr
David W. Orr
On Watershed Education
Helping Children Fall in Love with the Earth: Environmental Education and the Arts Pamela Michael
Finding Your Own Bioregion
PART III. RELATIONSHIP Revolution Step-by-Step: On Building a Climate for Change
Neil Smith with Leslie Comnes
Leadership and the Learning Community
Jeanne Casella with Zenobia Barlow, Sara Marcellino, and Michael K. Stone
"It Changed Everything We Thought We Could Do": The STRAW Project
Michael K. Stone
Raising Whole Children Is Like Raising Good Food: Beyond Factory Farming and Factory Schooling
Meditations on an Apple
PART IV. ACTION Dancing with Systems
The Loupe's Secret: Looking Closely, Changing Scale
Tapping the Well of Urban Youth Activism: Literacy for Environmental Justice
SustainabilityA New Item on the Lunch Menu
Michael K. Stone
Rethinking School Lunch
Changing Schools: A Systems View
Resources Publication Credits About the Editors About Bioneers