How does what we eat impact our community? A class at the University of Maine at Machias (UMM) in the Psychology and Community Studies program is taking closer look at where our food comes from on a local level, and what the local food concerns are in the community as part of a sociology course. The discussion is also bridging the gap between the university and the community by inviting community members to read the books along with the students and have open discussions together.
The discussion is drenching the community, as copies of the three books were donated to 13 local libraries. Book clubs are being hosted at community spaces, including the Whole Life Natural Market in Machias, as well as the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott. Working as a communal sponge, the subject just being on the minds of so many people in different sectors of the community may be the best way to create space to think of issues as well as participate in the discussion.
Meghan Duff, the UMM professor spearheading the course says that she is trying to teach through the lens of sociology through a case-study of food in the community. Rather than coming up with new ideas, she says that she has chosen to amplify what efforts are already in place and reconnect people.
“The more I can listen to what these folks are, the more, maybe, I can act as a conduit to connect them as a group,” says Duff.
About five community members joined Duff's class last Friday to discuss the first portion of the first book, The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen. What seemed to strike most in the group about the book was the commitment to a type of farming, and the regulations that are put on small farmers regarding the slaughtering and selling of livestock and dairy products. Also, the question of who controls our food was discussed. Whether through “greenwashing” labels on products, or the selling of a trend diet can impact the food decisions being made on a larger level.
Through the collective reading of the book, community members as well as students are coming to the table with their own perceptions and ideas on the subject. The students, in particular, will be working with local agencies and food pantries as part of a service learning component to the course. The film 'A Place at the Table' will be screened for the public and will coincide with the Food and Fuel Alliance and Washington County: One Community's Turkey-A-Thon.
The Psychology and Community Studies program graduates many students that already live in Washington County, and the area provides many opportunities for not just community involvement, but also service learning and even employment upon graduation.