• Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, signs copies of his book,...
    Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, signs copies of his book, The Bond, following his presentation at the 2012 Brown Symposium.

How can the world feed its growing population in the 21st century? How can we make our food choices less destructive to the environment?  

These are among the topics that will be discussed  Feb. 27-28, 2012 as Southwestern University holds its 34th annual Brown Symposium. The symposium is titled “Back to the Foodture: Sustainable Strategies to Reverse a Global Crisis.” It has been organized by Laura Hobgood-Oster, a professor of religion and environmental studies and holder of the Elizabeth Root Paden Chair.  

Hobgood-Oster said she picked this theme for the symposium because food is central to her two main fields of study – religion and ecology.  

“Food is part of celebrations and rituals in almost every religious tradition,” she said. “And our food choices have a huge impact on the environment. Discussions about global warming often focus on transportation issues, but climate change has as much to do with what we eat as what we drive.”  

The symposium will begin on Monday, Feb. 27, with a keynote address by Richard Wilk, director of the Food Studies Program at Indiana University and author of the 2006 book Fast Food/Slow Food: The Cultural Economy of the Global Food System. Wilk’s talk is titled “Eating the Future: Why Changing your Diet is Not Enough.”  

The other speaker scheduled for Monday morning is Winona LaDuke, a native American activist who has been working to repopulate the northern plains with native grasses. “At one time this land was full of diverse grasses, but those grasses have been replaced with just two crops – corn and soybeans,” Hobgood-Oster said. This lack of biodiversity poses a problem, Hobgood-Oster said, because one disease could wipe out these crops.

Monday afternoon speakers will be Amie Breeze Harper, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California – Davis who is an expert in the field of race and diet, and Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States. Harper is the editor of the 2010 book Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society. Pacelle is author of the 2011 book The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them.

The keynote speaker for Tuesday, Feb. 28, will be Jo Luck, who served as president and CEO of Heifer International from 1992-2010 and was co-recipient of The World Food Prize in 2010. Luck’s talk is titled  “Global Hunger is More Personal Than You Think.” Following this talk, all the speakers will join a selected group of Southwestern students for a panel discussion on “How to feed a growing population in the 21st century.”

“We live in a culture where food seems so plentiful, but it is not,” Hobgood-Oster said. “Even in the United States there are people who are hungry all the time and who can’t afford food – certainly not healthy food.”  

Hobgood-Oster noted that one reason why we have so much hunger is because we are using so much of our food to feed animals who are raised for meat. In 2010, she said, the price of corn went up 63 percent, the price of wheat went up 84 percent and the price of soybeans went up 24 percent. “A lot of people can’t buy these basic commodities anymore,” she said.  

Several hunger awareness events are being planned in conjunction with the symposium. People who come to the symposium will be asked to bring donations for local food banks and on Tuesday during lunch, Southwestern students and local restaurants will be sponsoring an “Empty Bowls” event in which participants can purchase ceramic bowls made by students and choose a soup to go in them. Proceeds from this event also will go to a local food bank.  

Food from local growers will be available at a Farmers Market to be held Monday from 5-6:30 p.m. in the Bishops Lounge. All the coffee breaks during the symposium will feature local food and drinks.  

The symposium also will include an art exhibit titled “Culinary Cultures: A Ceramics Perspective” that has been co-curated by Southwestern University Art Professor Patrick Veerkamp. The exhibit, which will feature the work of 19 contemporary ceramicists from across the country, opens Feb. 13 and will run through March 9. Veerkamp will give a talk about the exhibit in conjunction with the symposium on Monday, Feb. 27, at 4:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Gallery.

The symposium also will include a concert featuring Southwestern University Music Professors David Asbury and Bruce Cain, who have written a song cycle titled “River of Words” that focuses on the environment, particularly the importance of water to creating and sustaining life. A new piece for the song cycle has been commissioned just for the symposium. Asbury and Cain will perform on Monday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m. in the Alma Thomas Theater.  

Hobgood-Oster said she hopes people will come away from the symposium being more thoughtful about the food they eat. “We’re not very thoughtful about food,” she said. “We eat as we go without considering the impact of that food on the environment or on our own bodies and our health – or the joy of food.”

For a complete schedule of events, visit http://www.southwestern.edu/brownsymposium/

All events related to the symposium are free and open to the public, but advance reservations are suggested. Important note: During the Brown Symposium, the parking lot next to the Fine Arts Center will be reserved for handicapped parking.

In conjunction with the symposium, a group of students from Southwestern has organized a documentary film festival that will focus on the ethics of food. The films to be shown are:

Feb. 8 – “King Corn”
Feb. 15 – “Forks Over Knives”
Feb. 22 – “Food Matters”
March 7 – “Fresh”

The first three documentaries will be shown at 6:30 p.m. in Olin 105. “Fresh” will be shown in the Campus Center Ballrooms at 7 p.m. and will be preceded by a talk by producer Ana Joanes.

All films are free and open to the public. For more information on the film festival, visit http://www.southwestern.edu/academics/brownsymposium/film.php

The A. Frank Smith Jr. Library Center will have a display of books on topics related to the symposium as well as books written by symposium participants. Members of SEAK, the student environmental group at Southwestern, are compiling a “sustainable cookbook” that will be sold at the symposium.

The Brown Symposium is funded through an endowment established by The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston. The first Brown Symposium was held in 1978. A list of all previous symposium topics can be found at http://www.southwestern.edu/academics/brownsymposium/34years.php



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