The 2010-11 RPS theme was Food and Religion, within which we explored a range of topics with international and local academics, food practitioners, and policy makers.
Asking about religious and secular authority, for example, we explored spiritual, environmental, ethical, and political issues that come into play when decisions are made about who eats what. Who decides what’s fit to eat? What constitutes the basis for authority in each of these areas? What happens when these areas are in conflict?
Thinking about vegetarianism and meat-eating, we considered the different religious perspectives on eating animals or taking the life of animals. What are the ethics of vegetarianism? How do various religious groups react to the contemporary industrial production of meat? Do particular religious or ethical concerns arise around eating or not eating animals raised and killed in this industrialized food system? What alternatives exist for those who want to eat meat in accordance with their religious traditions but prefer to bypass the industrial system?
Exploring religious responses to hunger, we asked how religious organizations engage with current debates around food security in the city. How does religious diversity play into food charity? What local responses have developed amongst different religious groups to the problem of hunger? How have recent concerns about the quality and ethics of packaged and processed food changed the ways religious groups practice food donations? How do religious institutions create food policies?
Approaching the boundaries of sacred and secular, we considered how various encounters with the land and with creation are shaped by religious ethics or tradition. At what point does a food practice – farming, raising animals, harvesting, cooking, giving thanks, eating – become sacred, or secular? How does our language (and our action) around food production shift, depending on whether we are speaking from a “scientific,” “policy,” or “spiritual” perspective? If we think of the earth as an expression of divine or sacred space, what is our responsibility to the land? How do religious groups respond to radical re-shaping of nature, through GMOs, pollution, climate change?
Public Forum, April 15, 2011, 2:30-5:00 pm, Great Hall, Hart House, University of Toronto
Toronto is a hub for immigrants from all over the world, who practice a dizzying array of culinary and religious traditions. How do these food traditions intersect with the sustainable food movement and how are religious organizations responding to the ethical concerns raised by food activists? Moderated by Department of Religion Professor and RPS founder Pamela Klassen, the RPS public forum for 2011 brought together scholars, activists, food practitioners, and policy makers to discuss the significance of religious diversity for the burgeoning food movement. Guest speakers were Nancy Chen, Nigel Savage, Yasir Syeed and Elbert van Donkersgoed.
About the speakers
Nancy N. Chen is professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. A medical anthropologist, she examines cultural practices of self care through eating and medicating. Her recent publications include Food, Medicine, and the Quest for Good Health (2008) and the co-edited volume Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate (2010).
Nigel Savage, originally from Manchester, England, founded Hazon (Hebrew for “vision”) in 2000. Hazon is the largest environmental organization in the American Jewish community. Hazo’s vision is to create healthy and sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond. Before founding Hazon Nigel was a professional fund manager in the Wall Street equivalent in the UK. He has an MA in History from Georgetown, and learned at Pardes, Yakar and the Hebrew University. Hazon was recognized by the Sierra Club as one of 50 leading faith-based environmental organizations in the US. In 2008 Nigel was named a member of the Forward 50 – the annual list of the 50 most influential Jewish people in the United States. Nigel is thought to be the first English Jew to have cycled across South Dakota on a recumbent bike.
Elbert van Donkersgoed is an agricultural journalist and consultant. He is a long-time spokesperson for agriculture and the family farm. Elbert is the editor of Plumbline Locavore News, an email newsletter/blog of stories, announcements and website postings about interesting and unique activities and possibilities for re-localizing our food system. For eight years, from 1998 to 2006, he wrote a weekly farm, food and countryside commentary, Corner Post, heard on Southwestern Ontario radio stations and widely distributed on the Internet. Elbert remains actively involved in the following organizations: Member, Toronto Food Policy Council, Board Member, Ontario Farmland Trust, Board Member, Local Food Plus, Advisory Committee, Sustain Ontario—Alliance for Healthy Food and Farming, Healthy Lands Advisory Committee, Metcalf Foundation, Advisory Committee, Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation. From 2006 to 2008, Elbert served as Executive Director for the Greater Toronto Area Agricultural Action Committee, a distinctive partnership involving four GTA Federations of Agriculture and the Regional Municipalities of Halton, Peel, York and Durham, plus the City of Toronto, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Toronto Food Policy Council and the food sector. For 35 years, he was the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario and its 4,300 member family farm entrepreneurs. During that period, he helped found the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition and the Ontario Rural Council (now the Ontario Rural Institute).
Yasir Syeed, while spending 12 years in corporate America focused on sales and marketing for enterprise software start-ups, never seemed to have fully left the woods and creeks he enjoyed in his youth. The pull of nature and desire to experience more than the stale air conditioned cubicles, along with his own passion to provide his family food that was raised with mercy and dignity and thereby nourishes body and spirit led him to go to farms and harvest his own meat. One thing led to another, and pretty soon he found himself establishing Green Zabiha, which is devoted to promoting the importance of conscious eating. But if you ask Yasir, the underlying ethos of GZ is not about meat, or halal, or even food, its all about restoring sacredness to a world that has lost much of it. And eating is a nutritional, political, economic and ultimately spiritual act, every bite we take has a profound effect internally and externally. Yasir received his undergraduate degree in Biology, and like most graduates he never worked in the field of his study. He counts his wife and four kids as his biggest inspirations as he walks through the journey of life.
Participants in the April 14, 2011 Community Workshop on Food and Religion
Lauren Baker, Toronto Food Policy Council
Dan Bender, Dept of History, University of Toronto
Richard Chambers, Mult-Faith Centre for Spiritual Study and Practice, University of Toronto
Nancy Chen, Dept of Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz
Risa Cooper, Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs and Kavannah Garden
Naisargi Dave – Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto
Angela ElzingaCheng, Foodshare
Barbara Emanuel, Toronto Public Health
Debbie Field, Foodshare
Joanna Flatt – Graduate Student Representative
Harriet Friedmann, Munk School for Global Studies, University of Toronto
Frances Garrett, Dept of Religion, University of Toronto
Khadijah Kanji, Noor Cultural Centre
Samira Kanji, Noor Cultural Centre
Pamela Klassen, Dept. of Religion, University of Toronto
Anan Lololi, Afri-Can Foodbank
Joshna Maharaj, Slow Food / Independent Chef
David Mayberry, Canadian Foodgrains Bank
Sarah McRitchie – Undergrad Representative
Joe Mihevc, Toronto City Councillor
Andrea Most, Depts. of English and Religion, University of Toronto
Aldea Mulhern, PhD Student, Dept of Religion, University of Toronto
Srilata Raman – Dept. of Religion, University of Toronto
Nigel Savage, Hazon (New York)
Stephen Scharper, Centre for the Environment, University of Toronto
Yasir Syeed, Green Zabiha (Virginia)
Elbert van Donkersgoed (Terra Coeur, Christian Farmers’ Federation, Toronto Food Policy Council)
Melissa Wheeler – Graduate Student Representative
William Woodworth – Beacon to the Ancestors Foundation
Marian Yusuf – Toronto Public Health