What should we eat?

Friends: I need your help!

With the semester starting in full force next week, I'm in the middle of preparing for a 1-credit seminar I'll be teaching this fall, to a small group of undergrads who live in the GreenHouse environmental living community.

The class--in five two-hour sessions--will tackle the questions of "how do we decide what to eat?" and "what factors (environmental, sociological, personal) inform this choice?"

So, I'm trying to come up with two lists that will help frame the course. One will be a list of contrasts (eating at home vs. eating at restaurants, cooking from scratch vs. buying processed foods, eating meat vs. not eating meat, and so on). The other will be a list of values that some people consider when deciding what to eat (taste, cost, environmental impact, community, the status quo, etc.).

I'll try to take these lists and create some kind of coherent framework for leading 18- and 19-year olds through the thought processes of making food choices. For each class session, I'd also like to come up with an easy meal we can cook and enjoy together, which highlights some of the contrasts present in the week's theme.

So, what do you think? Can you help me come up with some contrasts and values? What else do you consider when deciding what you eat? What might other folks from different cultural or class backgrounds consider?

Oh, and I'm also looking for reading suggestions! Good, short articles that capture some of these issues?

I'd love your help! And I promise to post the syllabus once it's set to keep up the sharing...


  1. Some things that come to mind: Eating traditions and rituals. Certain meals on a holiday, a particular meal that marks an event (e.g. a couple's anniversary). Food and place ~ things we eat in very particularly contexts (at a state fair, at a baseball game). Also, EMOTION. I know you list "personal" choices, but this seems like an important category on it's own.

  2. It might be good to add something on labor/fair trade. Maybe someone from Just Coffee could present something.

  3. Yes to both! I'm trying to figure out how to fit all this in to too-few class sessions.

    Keep the suggestions coming!

  4. so, i dont know how appropriate the topic would be for 18-19 yr olds, but as i parent a lot of our food decisions/food prep/conversation is focused on or around our children. we have thought about the fact that these babies are born to us and we initially control EVERYTHING that they ingest. we introduce the sugar/chemicals, etc... and we also give them their first fruit/veggies, etc...

    parents/caregivers are the initial introduction to food and eating (and traditions/rewards in food form) for children and can really shape their attitudes and palates. having a 4 and 2 yr old we are entering territory of letting them make decisions on their own about what they eat. that is a whole other topic, translating your wishes and desires for your children into decisions that they will have to make on their own.


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