Food, Health, and Society course at Schumacher College
Frank Cook's journal from his time at Schumacher College in March 2006.
Everyone is talking about food these days - and rightly so. The issues of what we put in our bodies, where it comes from, and who provides it, are fundamental and bring together all the major concerns of those seeking environmental sustainability and social justice.
Schumacher College is holding a residential course on Food, Health and Society on March 5-24, 2006
This course looks at the big picture, beginning with the relationship between food and power throughout the history of civilisations. It will examine nutrition, health and food policy in modern times:
- What is good health and who should be responsible for it?
- Why are so many people still starving or malnourished?
- What is the role of government in tackling food and health issues? In the final week, activists from the Soil Association and Slow Food movement will talk about how their organisations are addressing these complex problems.
- This three week residential course will feature speakers Colin Spencer, Aileen Robertson, Tim Lang (a guest lecturer at UNISG), Patrick Holden and Cinzia Scaffidi (Slow Food).
For further details please contact: The Administrator, Schumacher College
First week at Schumacher for Food Health and Society March 11, 2006
I first heard of this school by reading “Without Destination” by Satish Kumar who is one of the directors here. I highly recommend your checking out this inspiring work of a peace activist’s life walking about the planet to inspire people to give up war. He is also the editor for Resurgence Magazine.
This has been a very full week with a lot of my energy going into getting to know the people here and the way things operate around here. My train ride here from London was spectacular and it seems to me that coming to Europe to ride the trains around is reason enough. I have felt right at home in this place from soon after my arrival. The main school is in a building built in 1370 called the postern. Around this is a cluster of buildings that are dormitories and art space. There are gardens and very stylized landscape with huge several hundred-year-old trees including some huge sculpted yew bushes. Inside the main building sort of feels like a castle with lots of rooms—library, movie viewing room, meditation room, snack room, lecture rooms, styly kitchen and pantry, plus offices and bathrooms. Everyone participates in the maintenance of the place. Our class of 11 (from England, US, Brazil, Kenya, and Thailand) is divided into 5 groups (I’m a beech) and each day we help with various aspect of keeping the place clean.
On our first day we went for a 2 hour walk about the 800 acre property of the Dartington Estate of which the school is a part of. It was a good wake up call to the politics of the area around land management and all the different interests that converge here. Three sides of the land are bordered by the Dart river that flows from Dartmoor to Dartmouth. We have fieldtrips planned to each of the ends of this river. I felt very familiar with this the landscape and the planting of the woods with exotics added to this including a big redwood forest 80 years old.
We have five teachers for the class and 2 facilitators which makes for a full time. These teachers are coming one at a time and this week we had the author Colin Spencer author of “Vegetarianism” and “The British History of Food”. I really liked him as a person and his wit. We had some wonderful chats on all aspects of life. He took us through prehistory Europe (especially Britain) through to now in terms of food use by the people and the politics and power play involved. I learned lots of little tidbits here and there about history and food that I won’t go into many details about here as I know you are a busy person. It was interesting to see what people have eaten here in England over the last 1000 years. We even visited a supermarket and interviewed people about their food choices. We also did daily taste tests comparing organic and commercial food (with organic always being noticed by a majority of the class.) One thing that became apparent is how radically food and all the parameters surrounding it has changed (largely for the worse) since WW II. And how five multi-national corporations are largely deciding the fate of food. Hope is still alive but it became clear that we are in a dire situation. “Factory chickens are fed better than 60% of the world’s human population.” (One nice tidbit was hearing that 25 MacDonalds are closing in England this year.) I am writing a paper for the class called “Cultivating Weedsdom”.
My days have gotten into a flow. I arise about 6:30 for a half an hour or yoga, then a attend a group meditation. I grab some fruit and tea and come and try to get some computer work done. At 8:30 there is morning meeting for everyone where we make announcements, review the day and do a group exercise. Then we do our maintenance work. Our lecture starts at 10 and goes until 1 with a half hour break for tea and snacks. Lunch is at 1. Then there is an activity at 2:15 and then some more work to help with. I get a little more time to work on my various personal projects with dinner at 6:30—amazing homemade food though a little too much dairy for my taste. In the evening there is usually a presentation given. Then I do a little more work and read and try to sleep around 11….Feels full but good and I have been able to work on my Africa book each day as well as keep up with correspondence. Weekends are unstructured and this morning I did an hour weed walk with about 15 enthusiastic people. I have also made a wild wine and started a kim chi.
That gives you a sense of what I have been up to. I will try to do this again next weekend. Please ask questions and let me know what you want to know more about.
Second Week at Schumacher
This past week zoomed by in a whirlwind of activity and I am trying to keep my bearings so I can be as present as possible in our last week. I largely kept my weekly habits that I mentioned last week and really appreciate how they integrate communal maintenance into the daily routine. The main difference in the week was that we had two teachers, both college professors. Our first teacher, Aileen Robertson, worked for the WHO for 12 years as a food health researcher and policy maker. The second half the week Professor Tim Lang encouraged us to improve ourselves but to go beyond that to inspiring a movement for a better world. Both of these teachers generated a lot of output through powerpoints and handouts. I have moved forward on the Africa book but not as much as I would have liked so far. May I get some time each day this week! Beyond our teachers we had numerous staff talks and guest presentations. Jerry Mander the author of “Five Arguments Against Television” spoke about the coming tipping points. Satish gave a fireside chat on what is spirit. We had a wonderful outing up into Dartmoor walking the open hilltops then down through an oak forest to the river Dart. Some of us welcomed Spring with jumps into the chilly river.
Mary Bartlett, Book Maker and Gentian expert took us on a rousing walk through the Dartington Gardens full of history and plant knowledge. Six of us hugged together a 2000 year old yew. One of the teachers from the master’s program, Brian Goodwin gave a lecture on Chaos theory, the heart and discussed alternative money systems. One highlight for me was sharing the making of soymilk with the head chef Wayne. I also had a chance to make another kim chi and my third fruit wine. I could really feel this full moon just before spring.
I turned in my first draft of the class paper as well as gave an hour talk and slideshow on the work I am carrying out. On Saturday a bunch of us went to the Eden Project as well as a nice walk on Plants for a Future Project around 30 acres where they have planted 20,000 trees. (Check out www.pfaf.org). Eden is a futuristic nature theme park with a nice hippy non-linear philosophy. Seven million people have visited since they opened 5 years ago. I felt right at home in terms of plants with California, South Africa, and the Tropics well represented. I liked the focus on plants useful to people and the very evocative sculptures and murals. Many signs were made on fabric. Many aspects of the place impressed me including the world’s largest greenhouse.
Yesterday I took an interpersonal skills workshop and facilitated two weed walks. It was an incredibly full week that will take me some time to integrate. And now I zoom along to the last week. I will be back in California in less than a week. Trying to stay present and make the most of it.
Final Week at Schumacher
As I shared in my account of week 2, I felt I had peaked out with the full moon, but there were definitely highlights about my third week that I would like to share with you. This last part of the course zoomed by and it was everything I could do to stay present and absorb the experiences.
On Saturday eight of us went to the Eden Project. This modern eco-theme park was an impressive place even in the winter. It was opened five years after four years of construction restoring an old quarry. Two clusters of honey-combed shaped greenhouses fill in some of the bottom area the rest house education facilities and gardens. In fact one of the greenhouses is the largest of its kind in the world. Inside is like being in a spaceship planet. Over 7 million people have already come and the owners are working hard to renovate from the wear and tear, build more structures, and prepare for the summer onslaught. This place represents a melding of technology and permaculture -hippy wisdom.
Their two main green bubbles were the Mediterranean and Tropical areas where I felt right at home. I appreciated how they featured the most common people plants from those ecosystems. Ingenuity exuded from everywhere—lots of sculptures and art, an amazing Dionysian ritual display, signs made on fabric, trails that twisted and turned in non-linear ways. They have found a nice balance with technology creating wonderment without sterility. Now they have to survive the hoards. I sense that they had no idea they would be this popular. I look forward to visiting again when the outside gardens are popping.
Afterwards we visited an organization called Plants for a Future (check out their useful database of 7000 plants www.pfaf.org). A kind, knowledgeable man , Phil James, gave us a tour for a couple of hours around the 28 acres. We grazed in the winter garden with food available every day of the year, then walked to the knoll with a view of the sea through a forest of 20,000 trees they had planted 15 years earlier. That filled up Saturday.
On Sunday I facilitated a plant-harvesting walk. We gathered lots of wild garlic, nettles, winter cress, and chickweed. We were blessed to find a Ganoderma mushroom cluster and later made teas and wines with it. Then I participated in a group psychotherapy session called Constellations that offered some nice insights. Half a dozen local rainbows showed up for a plant walk in the afternoon. We had a nice jaunt through the Dartington forest full of California redwoods and Douglas firs—very trippy.
Monday brought us a new teacher named Patrick Holden , director of the Soil Association—the organic standards group of the UK. I enjoyed his teaching style of storytelling after our previous week’s academic focus. He shared with us the issues facing them in the UK as well as pressures from the EU and WTO. These larger groups are challenging the UK saying that their quality standards are a barrier to free trade. The organic movement in the UK is growing faster than any other country. We discussed how food today has decreased over 50% in its key trace elements. He attributes this to the use of fertilizers and hybrids.
One afternoon the head of the MSc. Program, Stephen Hawkins, gave a lively talk on the Gaia Theory—its history and implications. It was very exciting with a good dose of Goethean Science and mythos. Then he took us outside for a get-in-touch-with-nature circle. He mentioned traveling shamanically through the pathways of the earth and getting Gaia’d (i.e. having a direct, real communication with the planet that forever changes you.)
On Wednesday we had our last teacher appear, Cinzia Scaffidi, a director from the Slow Foods Movement that started in Italy in 1986 to help balance out the movement of modern culture toward fast foods. Slow Food emphasizes the pleasure and beauty of food in all its nuances. They want to preserve food production and food culture. They equate lose of traditional foods with lose of human culture and believe the current food system is built on violent ideologies. Slow food has over 100,000 members worldwide who promote these philosophies. They have created a University of Gastronomic Sciences, a semi-annual indigenous conference called Terra Madre that 5000 people attend from 130 c0untries. They promote education through the senses. They have a food product line under the label ARK and give annual Slow Food Awards each year to those who notably defend biodiversity. They have a goal of bringing pleasure, aesthetics , and positiveness back to the environmental movement.
In addition to all this teaching we practiced being community and worked on our own personal stuff. I had meetings with various members of the staff around the possibility of coming to the MSc program in 2007 and felt warmly encouraged. I feel Schumacher College is trying to be a model of how to live in community with “human beings and other than human beings” as Satish likes to say, as well as promote high levels of learning. It is a challenge in these times and they hold a delicate balance. The last couple of days I tried to come to closure with my fellow students who I had grown to appreciate each in their unique way. I also felt I was beginning to get to know some of the members from the special communities in the area. I had a final visit with the remarkable Mary Bartlett and was put before “The Printmaker’s Flora” of which only 37 copies exist in the world. Calling this compilation a book is doing it no justice for it is truly a work of art. Twenty-one printmakers each focused on a different interesting plant. I was moved to tears (as I am now) at its power and beauty. Thank you, Mary. I finally had a walk through the 2+ acre agricultural forest with over 450 useful plants. It was created and has been maintained for twelve years by plant guru Martin Crawford. It was special to get to know in various ways over half the MSc students (two of them where in our class.) They all share a knowing look from having been in this energy for eight months now. I fell in love with the place, the community, the staff and the students on many levels. For me it is not if I go back, but when and in what capacities.
Praise Be to the Most High !