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Students serve up all-local feast

Student Yan Brunjes adds mint to his grape juice during a Thanksgiving meal at Westminster College's Emma Eccles Jones Conservatory.
Student Yan Brunjes adds mint to his grape juice during a Thanksgiving meal at Westminster College's Emma Eccles Jones Conservatory.
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

Madeline Kirkpatrick bought potatoes grown in Draper.

"You could smell the dirt on the potatoes," she said.

Alex Taran found honey produced in Logan.

But flour?

"I can't find flour from Utah," Taran said. "I'm sure it's there somewhere."

The two Westminster College students were part of an exercise that combined lessons learned in their English and environmental-biology classes. Linking these two courses, known collectively as "Wilderness, Suburbs and Action," is part of a campus-wide program school officials call "learning communities."

The assignment here was to create an entire Thanksgiving Day menu using only foods produced within 100 miles of Salt Lake City — students were asked to write about the environmental impacts of everyday food consumption.

One student caught a trout in Utah waters. Another made grape juice from grapes grown by a relative. The entire meal was presented on campus Nov. 17 by the students.

Kirkpatrick, 18, met someone early in the assignment who is a member of Slow Food, an international group whose claim on its Web site is "to protect the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of modern fast food and life."

That connection led Kirkpatrick to a small family farm in Draper, where she purchased purple potatoes and blue squash. The farm made an impression.

"They weren't Amish, they drove cars, the kids go to swimming lessons — they have a regular suburban life," she said. And the farm, Kirkpatrick added, not only generates food for the family, it's also a source of income.

Growing what you eat is a lesson Kirkpatrick said will stick with her.

But if you can't grow it yourself, as the lesson goes, the next best thing would be to buy locally — something Taran, 19, isn't convinced is very easy to do.

"We don't have enough hours in the day to drive all over and find food grown locally," she said. That's not to say you shouldn't at least try, according to Taran.

"It's hard, but there's a balance," she added. "There are certain stores that carry a lot of local foods."

A simple piece of pizza, Taran added, could be made from ingredients that have traveled from several different parts of the country. Trucks burning fossil fuels have to travel many miles just to deliver the vegetables on her pizza, Taran said.

Westminster English professor Jeffrey McCarthy, who helped come up with this exercise, likes to quote a researcher who says that the average bit of food travels 1,500 miles before it is consumed — a "fossil-fuel" diet, McCarthy said.

More and more people are catching on, McCarthy added, to the "regional-food" issue, which takes a different view of what it means to be environmentally aware.

"They connect to their local environment by learning what it makes," McCarthy said. "Ideally, they develop a personal relationship to local food producers."

If the approach can be summed up in a bumper sticker, it would be the one that reads, "Think globally, act locally," according to Mc- Carthy.

"It's something they're succeeding at," he said of the 14 students involved in the Thanksgiving exercise.

But while the idea of acting locally isn't easy for people like Taran, veterans like biology professor Ty Harrison say it only takes a change in thinking.

"You don't have to drive all over," Harrison said. Start by getting to know managers of stores, he added.

"Every store you go into you should ask, 'What are you selling that's produced locally?' " Harrison said.

It's about teaching at least this group of students that simply shopping at the closest grocery store, according to Harrison, isn't the only alternative to reducing a consumer's impact on the environment. Harrison, for example, is into home canning, going to farmers' markets, drying and preserving food and cultivating his own garden.

Harrison, the course he helps teach, and a visit to a farm in Draper has made a believer out of Kirkpatrick.

"It's hard, but it's worth it — and it's doable," she said. In her words, this was a "cool" assignment.