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Monday, August 29, 2022

‘Just Good Food’ is topic of URI’s fall Honors Colloquium

Speakers to address equitable, sustainable and resilient food systems

Just the mention of the word food can bring to mind varying images for Americans: a big dinner with family; a low-key night at home with pizza; children and families across the globe facing starvation; the behemoths of agribusiness; and the increasing interest and participation in local, sustainable farming and food production.

Despite these different perceptions and experiences, scholars at the University of Rhode Island and elsewhere say we all share one thing: we are increasingly disconnected from the food system, except as consumers. The coordinators of the University of Rhode Island’s fall 2022 Honors Colloquium, “Just Good Food: Creating Equitable, Sustainable, and Resilient Food Systems,” hope to change that lack of understanding and awareness. Additional details and information about other events can be found at

The University’s premier, free public lecture series will bring 10 experts to the Kingston Campus to examine numerous aspects of the local and global food systems on Tuesday evenings at 7 in Edwards Hall. The series starts Sept. 13 and ends Dec. 13. 

Winona LaDuke, a Native American activist, economist,
and author, starts the series Sept. 13
The colloquium will also be available online. In addition to the lectures, the art department will present an exhibit related to the themes of the colloquium titled “Some Food We Could Not Eat,” featuring the works of Kamari Carter, Jennie Maydew and Zoe Scruggs and the Rhode Island Food Policy Council will have a photo contest that will serve to illustrate the different elements of the Rhode Island food system.

Colloquium coordinators John Taylor, professor of plant sciences and specialist in agrobiology, and Marta Gomez-Chiarri, professor of fisheries and specialist in aquaculture, say in their proposal for the colloquium that in 1900, 40% of the U.S. population lived on farms, and 41% of the population was engaged in agricultural production. Today, roughly 80 percent of Americans live in cities, and less than 2% of the labor force works in agriculture.

Citing a 2017 survey of Americans older than 18, 48 percent of respondents reported seldom or never seeking out information about where or how their food was grown or produced.

“There is great interest in Rhode Island in terms of increasing food sovereignty, so in other words re-localizing the food system,” Taylor said. “It’s tied into the regional initiative, 50 by 60, whose goal is to produce 50 percent of the food in New England by 2060. Hand in hand with that comes our desire to make this re-localized production more sustainable and also more equitable in terms of people’s access to food.”

The initiative, “50 X 60: A New England Food Vision,” is a report issued by Food Solutions New England, a regional network coordinated by the University of New Hampshire.

“We involved many people in the development of this colloquium, and URI also has a new interdisciplinary program in sustainable agriculture and food systems,” Gomez-Chiarri said. “We are trying to bring attention to that program and its goals.”

“We are working with URI Dining Services and its director, Pierre St-Germain, because we feed our students, but they don’t know where their food comes from,” she added. “There are also issues of food security among students. So we are trying to increase our local food production from local farms, including those at URI. Most people don’t know about the farms at URI.”

“This is all part of the larger problem with the food system, and this was really underscored by the (COVID-19) pandemic, during which we saw breakdowns in the global supply chains,” Taylor said. “For the first time in my lifetime, I saw empty shelves at grocery stores.”

Taylor and Gomez-Chiarri said there is great enthusiasm across disciplines at URI and people interested in sustainable, local food production.

The colloquium course is focused on three major themes,

  • The Lay of the Land; Global Challenges and Theoretical Frameworks
  • Food System Realities: The Way We Eat Now
  • New Imaginaries: Toward Sustainable, Resilient, and Just Food Systems

“We will cover the entire food system including production, processing, distribution, consumption, waste management and recovery,” Taylor said.

“Restaurants are a big part of that, and so we have two chefs coming to speak, and one of them, Sean Sherman, is founder and director of an organization called Sioux Chef (speaking Oct. 4),” Gomez-Chiarri said. “Our kickoff speaker Winona LaDuke, is also a Native American who is an expert on pre-Colonial food and food sovereignty among the native tribes.” 

She also noted that Dawn Spears, representing the Narragansett Tribe, played an important role in helping organize the lecture series.

LaDuke, a Native American activist, economist, and author, starts the series Sept. 13, with her talk, “Restoring Indigenous Foodways in a Time of Climate Change–Lessons for the 8th Fire.” LaDuke’s presentation is “The Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Women’s Studies Lecture.”

LaDuke combines economic and environmental approaches in her efforts to create a thriving and sustainable community for her own White Earth reservation and Indigenous populations across the country.  LaDuke is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg. LaDuke graduated from Harvard University in 1982 with a degree in rural economic development.

Today, the mother of six grown children (three biological and three adopted) devotes much of her time to farming. Located on the White Earth reservation in Minnesota, her farm grows heritage vegetables and hemp. 

LaDuke tries to publicize hemp’s environmental advantages: it requires less water to grow than cotton; can replace petroleum-based synthetics in clothing and other products; and absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, rather than releasing it. LaDuke’s Hemp & Heritage Farm is her latest endeavor; a farm and nonprofit agency, its mission is to create an Indigenous women-led economy based on local food, energy, and fiber, that is kind to the Earth. 

The art exhibit, “Some Food We Could Not Eat”, featuring the works of Kamari Carter, Jennie Maydew and Zoe Scruggs will run from Oct. 15 through Dec. 13, with an opening reception Oct. 15 from 3 to 6 p.m., location to be determined. Curator for the exhibition is Rebecca Levitan, Main Gallery director and assistant teaching professor.

The other topics, speakers and dates are:

  • Sept. 27, Vanessa Garcia Polanco, “The Exception and Not the Norm: Becoming an Agricultural and Food Justice Advocate.” Garcia Polanco is a URI alumna, an experienced leader, researcher, speaker, writer, and organizer, who works with food, agriculture, and climate stakeholders to create and strengthen communities with policy and advocacy. She is a member of the Young Farmers Coalition. 
  • Oct. 4, Chef Sean Sherman, “The (R)evolution of Indigenous Food Systems of North America.” He is founder and chief executive officer of Sioux Chef, Oglala Lakota, and is co-founder of the North American Traditional Food Systems. He has been cooking across the United States and the world for the last 30 years. His focus has been on the revitalization and awareness of Indigenous food systems in a modern culinary context.
  • Oct. 11, Ashanté M.Reese, “Black Food, Black Liberation: Thinking, Writing, and Living Beyond Black.” Reese is an assistant professor in the Department of African & African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She works in the area of Black food culture, social justice and community resilience
  • Oct. 18: Diana Garvin, “Kitchen Rebellion: Food under Italian Facism and Everyday Resistance.” Garvin is a culinary historian and assistant professor of Italian at the University of Oregon, who comments on the politics of food. Her work has appeared in The Washington PostPunch and Saveur. She is also the author of Feeding Facism: The Politics of Women’s Food Work.
  • Oct. 25, Saru Jayaraman, “Labor and the Food System.” Jayaraman is co-founder and president of One Fair Wage and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The lecture is co-sponsored by the URI John Hazen White Sr. Center for Ethics and Public Service. 
  • Nov. 15, Denzel Mitchell, “Urban Farming: Community Organizing and Family: A Black Chef’s Journey.” MItchell is co-founder and co-executive director of education and operations of the Farm Alliance of Baltimore. The lecture is co-sponsored by the URI Africana Studies program.
  • Nov. 29, Tom Philpott, “Perilous Bounty: Emerging Crises in Industrial Agriculture.” Philpott is the food and agriculture correspondent for Mother Jones magazine and author of Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American
    Farming and How We Can Prevent It.
    ” The lecture is co-sponsored by the Harrington School of Communication and Media.
  • Dec. 6, Leah Penniman, “Uprooting Racism and Seeding Sovereignty in the Food System.” Penniman is a Black Kreyol farmer, author, mother and food justice activist. Penniman is co-director and farm manager of Soul Fire Farm, Grafton, New York. This event is online only.
  • Dec. 13, Ricardo Salvador, “The 21st Century Food System We Deserve.” He is director of the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He will discuss working with citizens, scientists, economists and politicians to move the food system into one that grows and produces healthy foods while employing sustainable and equitable practices. The event is co-sponsored by the Rhode Island Food Policy Council.