Faith & Ecology: A Primer for Practitioners and Pundits

2014 Alternative Fall Break on Food and Interfaith Dialogue
by Dave Grace -- October 27th, 2014

This Fall Break, a group of Duke students chose to pursue an alternative Fall Break, investigating the topic of food and faith (read the overview here) . While food and faith is not a novel topic to religious people, interfaith dialogue generally is a novel thing. The focus on food gives this trip the potential to solidify bonds between faith and food groups on campus and build bridges with area faith communities.

Other Recent Food and Faith Activity @ Duke

Duke University has vibrant interest in campus food initiatives and religious life. A number of undergraduate student groups have attempted to improve local food systems on campus and in the region, including the Duke Apiary Club, Community Garden, Culinary Society as well as Food4Thought, the Duke Food Project, the Environmental Alliance and Plan V. A number of undergraduate courses on food are also offered, such as Food and Energy (which includes a service component), a first-year seminar on Food Production in the US, Interdisciplinary Approaches to Why, What, and How We Eat, and Agriculture and Sustainability, and finally a course on Food, Eating, and the Life of Faith.[1] There is also a vibrant and diverse Religious Life community, including Duke’s Interfaith Dialogue Project as well as the Duke Undergraduate Faith Council. However, there is a lack of organizational overlap between campus food and interfaith initiatives. This is an obvious gap in Duke’s undergraduate student life. The pursuit of interfaith service initiatives combining food and faith helps build partnerships across various campus constituencies, which have many commonalities and a lot of to recommend to one another.

The Undergraduate Faith Council has expressed concern in the field of Food Systems and Faith, notably in its 2008 panel on “Saving the Earth: What can faith traditions teach us about the environment.” Additionally, the council participated in President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge specifically to “promote greater interfaith engagement in food issues”.[2] The Faith Council is also connected with a solid network of partners that are active in issues of food systems and faith, such as the interfaith partner, Durham Congregations in Action (DCIA) which launched Meals On Wheels and sponsors Crop Walk and community partners including the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Open Table Ministries, SEEDS, Student Action with Farmworkers, the Museum of Life and Science, Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, Burt’s Bees, as well as Justice Matters which deals with immigration legal issues and Durham CAN which in part deals with food security questions. These existing partnerships offer a rich variety of opportunities which our mission trip can connect to.

Growing Potential

This trip helps to fulfill existing priorities and needs on campus. In the future these partnerships can be deepened by engaging existing networks in new configurations, realizing interfaith engagement. Duke University has made environmental concerns a policy priority by signing an environmental policy statement in 2005 and the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007. The policy statement commits the University to “increasing faculty and student awareness of environmental issues, and enhancing environmental educational offerings” as well as identifies itself “as a responsible environmental citizen in the life of the surrounding community.[3]” The ACUPCC is a commitment to greenhouse gas emission reduction which is a priority of Duke’s Environmental Sustainability Director who is working toward a “target of 2024 for climate neutrality” (1/20/10, interview with Tavey Capps).[4] These policy statements mark food systems as an important topic for investigation on campus.

This Interfaith Service Initiative on Food and Faith is helping to energize both Duke’s food initiatives and its student Religious Life groups. This break trip also helps meet institutional needs by raising questions which deal with sustainability, in terms of food systems, and engaging the student body within the range of faith traditions it contains. It is both a historical problem and opportunity to engage diverse faith backgrounds in a way which enacts new and more life-giving forms of community. I think it is proper to think of community as both the problem and opportunity here because diversity is a constant threat to a community’s self-definition while also its constitutive framework and I suggest, its saving grace. I hope this trip on the topic of food and faith strengthens interfaith engagement within Duke’s student body by lifting up our common need for sustenance and probing for ways to improve the community life that provides it.

 

[1] A more detailed list of food related courses is offered here: http://sites.duke.edu/food/academics/

[2] From pg. 15 of “The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge Inaugural Report” (2013) Accessed online: http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/list/fbci/campus-challenge-inaugural-years-report.pdf

[3] Duke Environmental Policy Statement. Accessed online: http://sustainability.duke.edu/documents/Duke%20Env%20Policy%20statement.pdf

[4] From Meg Guiliano’s 2010 Masters Project, titled “Green Dining at Duke University” Accessed online: http://sustainability.duke.edu/documents/2010%2003%2022%20Meg%20Giuliano%20MP%20final.pdf

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