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Let’s Talk About Food

Endless tables conversationThe dreary weather conditions in the Boston area this past weekend did not discourage thousands of people from attending an innovative outdoor festival at the Museum of Science celebrating and exploring our relationship with food and food systems.

As one of several volunteer facilitators, I had the privilege of engaging in conversations at an “endless table” where festival attendees dropped in to discuss various aspects of food production, distribution, consumption, and regulation.

Festival organizers set the conditions for lively dialogue by providing dry-erase placemats that offered provocative data points and questions relating to six topic areas: Nutrition, Food Access, Seafood, Farming, Food Safety, and Labels and Marketing. Experts on hand to field questions and share their opinions included farmers, wholesale buyers, food scientists, academics, public health officials, and consumer and community advocates. The reflections and suggestions generated in the conversations were captured by museum staff for later publication on the web.

I don’t know which I enjoyed more, picking up a lot of new insights about how “what we eat affects our bodies, our planet, our economy, and our future,” or marveling at our capacity for constructive public discourse when we design the process effectively. A spirit of collective curiosity and good will was palpable throughout the event.

After the festival I found myself appreciating how the simple act of eating connects us to so many other human beings through unseen threads of interdependence. I thought of Thich Nhat Hanh’s good counsel to savor our food and his observation that an “…apple is not simply a quick snack to quiet a grumbling stomach. It is something more complex, something part of a greater whole.”

Like the apple, we are each a complex part of a greater whole. Thanks to the Museum of Science and its sponsors for helping us stay mindful of that delicious complexity.

  1. Lorraine
    June 28, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I like the way you compared the apple to people'”complex part of a greater whole”. Have you read the Omnivore’s Dilemma?

  2. David
    June 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks, Vicky, for being an important part of this experience and for these reflections. We actually had Lilian Cheung who was Thich Nhat Hanh’s co-author of Savor, as a speaker in our kickoff of the initiative back in October, so it’s interesting that you thought of that. I share your optimism for the power of conversation in helping people to consider important societal issues. You can get a sense of all of the building blocks for this festival by seeing the breadth and diversity of programs we did over the first year of Let’s Talk About Food: http://www.mos.org/events_activities/events_archive&ser=Let%27s%20Talk%20About%20Food – I hope you’ll join us for the ones coming up next year too – we’ve got lots planned, because there’s so much to talk about!

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