By Sarah Henry
They’re the hottest tickets in town and they’re not for any music, theater, or sporting event. The 700 seats for Edible Education 101: The Rise and Future of the Food Movement at the University of California, Berkeley—400 for students and 300 for members of the general public—were snapped up within minutes.
The fact that Alice Waters played a key role in bringing the curriculum to the university may well be a factor in drawing disciples to the discussion series. The Chez Panisse Foundation, recently reborn as the Edible Schoolyard Project, is footing the $30,000 bill for the fall semester course.
The instructors are also a draw: The 13-week course is being co-taught by Michael Pollan, journalism-school professor and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Nikki Henderson, the executive director of the West Oakland food justice organization People’s Grocery.
Then there’s the impressive lineup of lecturers: Such rock stars of the food world as nutrition and public-policy advocate Marion Nestle, investigative reporter Eric Schlosser, and Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, who kicked off the class on August 30.
“UC Berkeley is my alma mater, so I feel a real connection to the institution,” said Waters, who recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of Chez Panisse restaurant. “I hope that students will have a stronger grasp of the concept that what we eat has consequences for our health, culture, and the environment,” added Waters, who also hopes that the course will continue beyond the fall.
For Henderson, the class is an opportunity to examine race, power, class, and privilege in relation to food, something she does every day at People’s Grocery. She also wanted practitioners—such as immigrant farm workers—to speak for themselves. “One of the dynamics of not having privilege is that you don’t get to tell your own story,” said Henderson. “I wanted to ground the syllabus in the struggle for food justice and food security. There wouldn’t need to be a movement if there weren’t deep injustices and divisions happening. This course explores the complexity of these issues within the context of the food movement.”
Classes are designed to bring an academic perspective to such concerns as food access, corporate domination and distribution of food, and nutrition and diet-related disease. Students are encouraged to think critically, act locally, and contemplate globally.
At the end of August, the Italian Petrini set the tone for what’s ahead with his impassioned presentation. He talked about the stuffed, the starved, and the need to share resources and break bread together to help create change in a food system full of waste and inequities that is making people at either end of the food spectrum sick.
The final four classes in November include lectures by Alice Waters, Diet for a Small Planet author Frances Moore Lappé, green advocate Van Jones, and local-food-access activists Brahm Ahmadi and Hank Herrera (pictured).
Free public tickets for individual classes are made available six days before each lecture, which runs from 6 to 7:30pm on Tuesdays: www.ticketweb.com/snl/EventListings.action?pl=panisse&orgId=130613
Thanks to Bon Appétit Management Company sponsorship, those without a seat at the table can listen to live webcasts of the course on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr5receWm4A&feature=player_embedded
Freelance writer Sarah Henry is the voice behind the blog Lettuce Eat Kale. She writes regular food columns for online sites Berkeleyside and KQED’s Bay Area Bites. Her stories on good food matters have appeared in Eating Well, AFAR, California, and San Francisco, as well as on the web for The Atlantic, Grist, and Shareable. Henry is the recent recipient of the Karola Saekel Craib Excellence in Food Journalism award from the San Francisco chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier.