Food for thought: Whitman's annual Global Studies Symposium explores global perspectives on what we eat
Keynote speakers at the 2013 Global Studies Symposium included (from left): David Kessler, former commissioner of the FDA; Jon Rubin, artist and professor at Carnegie-Mellon University; Katherine Deumling '96, chairwoman of Slow Food USA; and Peter Rosset, food rights activist and agroecologist.
Whitman students and faculty shared the stage with a roster of keynote speakers that included a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, a food rights activist, an artist and an alumna at the 2012-13 Global Studies Symposium on Saturday, Feb. 23 in Maxey Auditorium. The Global Studies Initiative is sponsored by the Ashton J. and Virginia Graham O’Donnell Endowment in Global Studies. The theme this year was “Food in Global Perspectives.”
The keynote speakers were joined on the panel by Whitman student respondents and professors. Student respondents included Haley McLeod ’13, William Newman-Wise ’13 and Susanne Jaszcult ’13.
“I think that this symposium truly embodied the spirit of liberal arts," said McLeod, a biology major from West Linn, Ore. "It brought together many disciplines to create a discussion about current issues surrounding food. And it was a success!”
David Kessler is the New York Times best-selling author of "The End of Overeating."
After the last presentation, one of the keynote speakers, Dr. David Kessler, professor at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, grabbed the microphone at his table on stage and took a moment to thank Whitman for hosting the event.
“I have two trade degrees, in medicine and law,” Kessler said. For him, the symposium "made the case" for the liberal arts: “In a world where people want us to justify its relevance, we’re not going to be taking on these challenges without being able to do what we have here, so thank you.”
Kessler headed the FDA from 1990 to 1997. He was appointed by President George H. W. Bush and reappointed by President Clinton. Kessler’s book, “A Question of Intent,” chronicles his tenure at the FDA and, in particular, the agency’s battle against tobacco.
Peter Rosset, professor at the Advanced Studies Institute of the Southern Frontier (ECOSUR) in Mexico, said he was impressed by the responses from the student panelists.
Artist Jon Rubin specializes in creating new platforms for social and political expression.
“They didn’t limit themselves just to what speakers said, but they also developed their own ideas and added their own viewpoints. That was particularly impressive.”
Rosset gave a presentation titled “The Global Peasant/Farmer Struggle for Our Food System.” Rosset is a food rights activist, agroecologist and rural development specialist.
Jaszczult, a politics major from Portland, Ore., who spoke after Rosset, said she approached her response as an intellectual exercise and an opportunity to ask questions, both of the experts and the audience.
"A big focus in my politics classes and in Whitman classes in general has been on asking better questions," she said. "The questions we ask are often just as important as the answers we give, and as students, we're much better suited to asking thoughtful questions than to providing definitive answers."
Keynote speaker Jon Rubin, associate professor of Art at Carnegie-Mellon University, gave a presentation titled “Conflict Kitchen and the Practice of Politically Engaged Art.” Rubin is an artist who creates unique opportunities for people to approach issues. For example, his Conflict Kitchen only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Newman-Wise, an art major from Bethesda, Md., responded to the presentation.
"I was interested in complicating his work and pushing students to think more critically about the relationships he proposes," he said.
"The questions we ask are often just as important as the answers we give, and as students, we're much better suited to asking thoughtful questions than to providing definitive answers."
-Susanne Jaszcult '13
After graduating from Whitman in 1996, Katherine Deumling received a Watson fellowship to study food and culture around the world.
Jonathan Walters, professor of religion and George Ball endowed chair of humanities at Whitman College, served both as the director of the Global Studies Symposium and as the moderator. Aaron Bobrow-Strain, associate professor of politics at Whitman College, spoke as well. He is the author of “White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf.”
Keynote speaker Katherine Deumling ’96 returned to her alma mater to take part in the symposium. Deumling is the Slow Food USA Chair and owner/operator of Cook With What You Have. She teaches classes about healthy cooking, develops curriculum for early Head Start parents, advocates for Community Supported Agriculture farms and teaches in local wellness programs in Portland, Ore.
“I was thrilled to be asked to participate, because I’m not a scholar,” she said. “I write recipes, and I teach people how to cook beans – in addition to forming the policy and bigger-picture planning around the slow food movement. Recipes can change the way our system works.”
Deumling said it was an honor to be able to share the stage with the other keynote speakers. “I was a kid in a candy store. It was a treat, especially as a Whitman grad, to be able to come back and use my liberal arts education.”
— Gillian Frew '11 also contributed reporting.