Food for Thought: Reflections on the Food Challenge

When I first read about the Food Challenge for my new course Education for Sustainability and Entrepreneurshipover the Christmas break, I got very excited. There were little firecrackers going off in my brain. There was so much scope here, and so much I wanted to do. I deeply believe that our relationship with food needs to be changed in order to make our relationship with our planet a healthier one (Robinson, 2020, Shiva, 2012; Warhurst, 2012).

I thought about making a meal from foraging and even went on a lovely walk with friend to start that process. I thought about growing greens. About doing a cool integrative learning project with my son, Gabriel. All those ambitions are still in the works, but what I actually accomplished was soup… with a side-dish of creative chocolate cells as a Genius Hour desert! The starter and the finish of a marvellous meal and a continuation of our household’s shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

The underlying motivations for this soup challenge were many. A large part of the inspiration to take this MEd stemmed from a real desire to practice sustainability and to change my relationship to the planet. I was truly inspired by the consumption journal we did for the course Foundations of Sustainability (EDUC6101) where I highlighted the fact that we buy a lot of good quality soups for my Dad (who has swallowing difficulties). This results in additional money being spent from our household budget, increased recycling and food waste, less nutrition and increased separation from our food sources. This was something we could easily do something about by making our own soups. I wanted to tie the courses and knowledge together to move reflection into action. It worked!

The other theme running through this is expression of knowledge and experience through social media. Again, the stimulus (though not the desire) has come from the two MEd courses, where blogging and videos play a large part in course activities and research. The pandemic has increased this emphasis on the spoken word and on visual media as important and easily accessible ways of interacting with the world that are now on, if not equal footing, certainly in a more balanced relationship with the written (and often peer-assessed) word. As the Department of Education’s (CBU) mission statement notes (Campbell unpub), education has an important global context in today’s world. Social media plays an essential role in communicating sustainable practices and advocating for change. The use of this blog to record a series of posts on Soup for the Soul reflects my commitment to bringing my ideas, experiences and knowledge into a wider social context (Juliani 2015, p. 19; Wettrick 2014).

It has certainly started a conversation in my own mind. And I see this project as one step on a longer a journey. The dish I wasn’t able to make in this time frame was the middle one of the main meal. This is the dish that I envisage would have come from our garden, the forest and local growers. It is perhaps a better one begun with spring and summer approaching. And it is, in the end, a deepening of a commitment our family has already made. I want to stretch this, in small ways, to increase our connection to our world and the communities that inhabit it. I am looking to be inspired by my colleagues in this course as to ways in which to do so.

The Value of Reflection: What have I learned from this project, how would I have done things differently, and what am I bringing to future projects

This course is asynchronous, meaning that deadlines are soft and encouraged to be met. This aligns both with the practical considerations of many of the students with regards to full-time jobs and families and with a different model of education where investment in creativity and belief in student accomplishment produce exceptional results. This assignment has gone far past its suggested deadline. There are reasons for this. During the time I was doing this food challenge, a number of unexpected happenstances occurred, the primary of which was that my Dad had a nasty fall and ended up in the hospital. There was a considerable shift of energies during this time towards managing (often remotely) his hospital stay.

This project has been about slowing down, reprioritizing and taking the time to connect with food. However, in these last couple months, it is as though the world has sprouted with opportunity for connection, like the flower buds on the maple outside my window. Participation in the MEd has also resulted in being introduced to a wide variety of educational endeavours in the form of conferences and working groups engaged in creating more integrated education environments for students. These are not to missed! But, equally, they demand time. This has become heightened during the pandemic where our social existence has shifted online and where it is now possible to attend virtual conferences globally and throughout the day and night. This is an incredibly important and exciting time for education, underlying the importance of expression through social media platforms (including Zoom). Balance between course expectations and educational opportunity was difficult through this time and only made possible through the asynchronous aspect of this course. I have a great gratitude to Liz and my colleagues in this course for holding this space to allow for participation in all of the other exciting discussions happening on a global scale.

These global discussions and vigour have also been reflected locally. Opportunities for the course I teach at the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre flourished (in part through integrating the knowledge gained in this course about student agency and virtual communication). WILD: Wildlife, Wild Places and Wild Issues is a course created pre-pandemic with a mandate towards community involvement and action. We haven’t been able to access many of the like-minded community groups that we did last year and the course has somewhat floundered. However, a recent exploration into liaising between the two Camp Kawartha sites, discussion with a local film-maker (and parent), and discussions with my mentor, friend and boss, Craig Brant, a whole range of activities and opportunities have opened up. This has also demanded a fair amount of time spent in highly invigorating meetings. Equally, because of it’s success (I am pioneering a number of new options for students, especially older students in outdoor education at the Environment Centre), there have been additional difficulties that have arisen that had to be addressed with care and patience.

What I have learned from this, is an awareness of the need to shift the focus of my MEd projects to a smaller scale, if not greater scope. This is difficult for me. I am a big ideas person! Thankfully, I am in the right place for big ideas, and am supported both by the ethos and members of the Education Department at Cape Breton University (see O’Brien, 2016, p. 209) as well as my amazing work environment at Camp Kawartha where the value of dreams is seen and encouraged every day. However, ‘aiming ridiculously high and playing with Big Ideas’ (O’Brien, 2016, p. 209) needs to be tempered with an acknowledgment of time, both in terms of saying ‘Yes’ to impossible schedules (as I did here) and acknowledging limits (as perhaps I should have done more of). For me, picking one thing rather than a series of things (such as these soups), needs to be considered in the future. Or perhaps, simply a different way of framing the expectations and end result.

This said, would I have done anything differently for this project in terms of its scope? I think not. The whole aim of this was to shift a practice from buying soups to making soups. While I could have done a one-off recipe, that doesn’t make a habit. It was essential to enact a practice of shifting behaviour towards more a more sustainable relationship with the planet.

What I could have done differently was recognize that the time scale was going to be longer and to openly submit a ‘progress-so-far’ report on time so that my class colleagues could engage with it and comment in a timely fashion for them with the end result being submitted later. Dr. Liz Campbell has been incredibly supportive of individual learning trajectories and this would have been a viable and encouraged option. Furthermore, having my colleagues comment half-way would have immeasurable benefit. Finally, this route would have further challenged the status quo of projects being assessed primarily on their end result rather than the journey of creating them. This works with the understanding is that it is experience that is our best teacher and that learning occurs best when mistakes and reflection are allowed and encouraged (Boaler, 2019, pp.26-78).

Going forward into the MEd, I will bear three aspects in mind: reducing the scope (if not the Big Idea), putting more emphasis on process, and looking for ways to increase communication with my colleagues. I missed out greatly with this because I have been stubbornly trying to finish rather than posting a progress report. In future, too, I will try to bring these projects into closer relationship with both the teaching of my WILD course and the homeschooling of my son (see the blogs on the Genius Hour project). This will enrich all our lives immeasurably!

Food for Thought: Thinking deeply about the role of gratitude in sustainability

Gratitude, in the end, has played an integral part of this project. Gratitude for the food that I eat, for the time I have taken to make these soups, from the gifts of kitchen items and of the food itself, and gratitude for the time taken and given for this project. It has been a project of community as well as individual endeavour. And it has taken an idea articulated in the fall and carried it through into a reality. I couldn’t be happier.

This journey of Soup for the Soup was in spirit of taking small steps, on focusing on the local and the everyday. I am inspired by the example of tiny houses (of which I recently had a virtual tour!) where life is pared down to essentials and where creativity and beauty abound in the challenge of how to make modern life flourish in small spaces. I think this also applies to projects and I am looking forward to encouraging my thinking towards this ideal. Sustainability is not just about buildings and food, it is also about time and lifestyle.

These soups have certainly brought our family into a better balance, with less money spent on food, less waste produced and more compost created! They are more highly nutritious! There is a gratitude to be given here as well, to Liz for her inclusion of the food challenge and unwavering support, to my MEd colleagues for their inspiration and conversation, for the gifts my friends have given, and to myself for carrying on and completely this vision. The challenge will be to continue the practice of making soup. Community will be important in that and taking the time to invest in our family and our planet.

Food is about community and gratitude. We come together to gather, to grow and to eat. I think it is in connections between people that we see the most scope for change and for enriching our own lives. Every small step makes a difference and many small steps make a journey. Thanks all for being on this journey of small steps, of leaps and bounds and sideways dances. Be well!

Reference List

Boaler, Jo. 2019. Limitless mind. Learn, lead and live without barriers. Harper One.

Camp Kawartha. (n.d.) Environment centre. Camp Kawartha. https://campkawartha.ca/environmental-education-centre/.

Campbell, Elizabeth. (2021) EDUC 6103: Education for sustainability and entrepreneursip. Unpublished Course Syllabus.

Juliani, A. (2015). Inquiry and innovation in the classroom: Using 20% time, genius hour, and PBL to drive student success. Routledge.

O’Brien, C. (2016). Education for sustainable happiness and well-being . Routledge.

Robinson, Ken. (2020, August 23). Creating a new normal. . The Call to Unite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUvNTt6crFM

Shiva, Vandana. (2012, September 25). Solutions to the food and ecological crisis facing us today. TEDxTalks. https://youtu.be/ER5ZZk5atlE

Wettrick, D. (2014). Pure genius: Building a culture of innovation and taking 20% time to the next level. Dave Burgess Consulting.

Warhurst, Pam (2012, May). How we can eat our landscapes. TEDSalon London Spring 2012. https://www.ted.com/talks/pam_warhurst_how_we_can_eat_our_landscapes?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare.

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