First, chop cabbage, carrots, parsnips, beets and daikon radish, and pack them into a jar. Then add salt and spices such as dill, mustard and black pepper, or ginger, green onions and chili. Last, grind the submerged vegetables until you extract juice.
“This is something that will feed you, calorically, and your immune system,” Mike Perlmutter FES ’07 said of his fermented food. “Being so viscerally involved feeds the sense and the spirit. Being in the face of all this ginger and garlic and all these potent-smelling things is really enlivening.”
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While this may sound like a cookbook recipe or an episode from Martha Stewart Living, these instructions were actually from Perlmutter’s “The Joys of Lacto-Fermentation” sauerkraut- and kimchi-making workshop, which took place last Thursday in the Berkeley College Student Kitchen. The workshop was part of the Yale Sustainable Food Project’s new educational outreach program, which focuses on a weekly speaker and seminar series. YSFP directors said this semester’s expansion of their educational initiatives is aimed at informing students about the consequences of their eating decisions. But some students question the effectiveness of the YSFP’s outreach and mission.
In past years, the YSFP has occasionally hosted speakers and workshops. But this year, through increased funding from University and alumni donors, the YSFP has been able to hire 10 more student workers who help plan and organize its upcoming weekly events such as “New England Maple-Syruping” and “The Science and Craft of Cheese Making (and Cheese Eating).”
YSFP director Melina Shannon-DiPietro said the YSFP expanded its educational initiatives in response to “clamoring” student demand and interest in the field. These educational initiatives offer a chance to explore the ethics and consequences of food choices, Shannon-DiPietro said.
“Yale trains up leaders, and we want the next generation of leaders to be very sustainably minded,” she said. “We want them to take into consideration … and make the link between the everyday food we eat, land and energy usages, and greenhouse gases.”
But some students said ascribing moral properties to the process of making food is futile because at the end of the day, students do not care about such benefits. They are focused on tastier food — sustainable or not, students said.
But YSFP visiting fellow Valentine Cadieux said YSFP workshops like Perlmutter’s show students that making sustainable food is possible for the average citizen. New Haven resident Tiana Lum-Tucker said participating in the sauerkraut-making workshop made her think about sustainable food practices, particularly since her hometown island of Hawaii is so dependent on importing food from the mainland.
Although the YSFP does not analyze the cost-effectiveness of each event, Shannon-DiPietro said many of the upcoming speakers and workshops will incur little cost for the program. For example, the only cost of the sauerkraut-making workshop was vegetables, and Shannon-DiPietro said many of the speakers are farmers and activists who are simply eager to talk to students and do not charge any fee.
After a university-wide survey found that 96 percent of students read the YSFP’s dining hall table tents, Shannon-DiPietro said, the table tents will now come out once every other week, more frequently then last year. YSFP student worker Gordon Jenkins ’07, who researches and writes the table tents, said they fall into three categories: ones that focus on the state of food in America, those that are based on the history of food, and tents with information about the Yale Sustainable Food Project.
Jenkins is a food columnist for the News.
But some students said that while the information provided in table tents is interesting, the tents are a “nuisance,” a waste of paper and an ineffective way to persuade students to think differently about their food choices.
“I have just never taken the time to look at them,” Angie Jaimez ’10 said. “There are so many vouching for your attention. I just see the YSFP tents as part of the dining hall, just like there are ‘no cell phone’ signs. It has faded into the background.”
Jenkins said he does not mind if students ignore the table tents but wants them to know that whether they like it or not, eating has “resounding effects” on a personal, community and national level.
“Every decision you make has a history,” Jenkins said. “The fact that you chose to eat that food has an implication.”
Other students said they were excited to see the YSFP diversifying its education initiatives from table tents to master’s teas, cooking workshops and food film screenings. Since table tents are easy to ignore, they said that they appreciated YSFP’s more proactive approach in making students think about sustainable practices.
“If there are so many things out there, then I will end up going to one of them, and even if I don’t, one of my suitemates will definitely end up tagging along and I will hear about it,” Fahad Khan ’07 said. “Somehow I will start thinking about it.”
Shannon-DiPietro said interest in sustainable food can also be seen in the significant increase in the number of food-related courses on offer this year — for a total of 18. Food is also a great springboard for teaching many different subject areas such as population migration, trade, microbiology and history of a place, she said.
“It is really this virtuous circle,” Shannon-DiPietro said. “Students are incredibly curious and inventive and it feeds into a demand for additional academic work, feeds into a demand for extracurricular, and the presidents want to support that, as do donors.”