The Buzz

Organic Ideas Grow on Campus

By Joe Bailey
University Communications

In Leila Nadir’s class, Food, Media and Literature, the concept of sustainability is definitely taking root. Her lesson plans include explorations of the way our food reaches us, and how that system can be improved. She sprinkles in the lingo of the health-food movement, and fosters healthy, back-to-basics attitudes in her pupils. The class also includes overviews of the potential detriments of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Students find her approach welcoming, with plenty of hands-on activities. They strive to become savvy consumers of food, as well as stewards of the earth.

One of the do-it-yourself projects in the course is to sprout seeds, including alfalfa, broccoli, and various peas and beans, to produce an eco-friendly, healthful snack. The seeds are soaked in glass jars and drained three times a day to promote germination. Several students in the course said the reason they enrolled was that they were interested in where the food they ate came from. By sprouting seeds, they all have a chance to engage in the whole process, from start to finish.

l-r: Sarah Kirschenheiter '13, Stacy Miller '15 and Julia Evans '13 (all class TA's). // The New Media Fermentation Workshop, a collaboration between University of Rochester professors Leila Nadir (sustainability) and Cary Peppermint (art and art history) meets in Burton Hall March 31, 2014. The workshop consist of students making their own personal vegetable ferments plus new media art students who will be documenting and remixing the experience. The workshops are part of EcoArtTech's new work-in-progress, Edible Ecologies, which involves collaborating with local communities to resuscitate historic food practices and foodways.  // photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of RochesterWhen asked how she got interested in food, media and literature, teaching assistant Stacy Miller replied, “I love food, and I want to be a smart consumer of it.” The class places a strong emphasis on sustainability and eco-friendly practices. Junior Brittany Flittner plans to use what she learns in this class to educate her family and herself to eat better foods that have a lower impact on the environment.

One subject the course addresses qualitatively is genetically modified organisms. Generally, the consensus among class members is that, in spite of some short-term benefits, GMOs are a bad idea in the long run. They identified potential issues like the emergence of resistant pests, caused by exclusive use of the same kind of GMO, or inferior taste, in the case of the late-ripening tomato. In one student’s opinion, GMOs might one day be safe enough to integrate into the food supply, but until then further study is needed. Students also commented on the inefficiency of food distribution, both nationally and internationally. One astute student pointed out that no matter how much food is produced by farms, people are still hungry in the world, noting that in industrialized nations, much food often goes to waste, while the poor and people in the developing world are left trying to make ends meet.

On March 31, the class gathered in a lounge in Burton residence hall to participate in a fermentation workshop. In the Greenspace lounge, these intrepid students sliced, diced, and chopped up vegetables of all kinds, creating mixtures of cabbage, with peppers and beets for flavor. “It’s important to cut the vegetables up very thin. You want to have as much surface area as possible,” Nadir explained. The veggies were mixed in bowls, then placed into jars with salt to ferment for a couple of weeks. Junior Stacy Miller described the process as “all-natural, a back-to-basics approach to preserving food.” No vinegar, sugar, or chemicals were added to hasten the fermentation process, as one might do when making pickles or sauerkraut. The only preservatives were various kinds of salt, added to disrupt the vegetables’ cell walls using osmotic pressure.

The New Media Fermentation Workshop, a collaboration between University of Rochester professors Leila Nadir (sustainability) and Cary Peppermint (art and art history) meets in Burton Hall March 31, 2014. The workshop consist of students making their own personal vegetable ferments plus new media art students who will be documenting and remixing the experience. The workshops are part of EcoArtTech's new work-in-progress, Edible Ecologies, which involves collaborating with local communities to resuscitate historic food practices and foodways.  // photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester

Through the workshop, students got a firsthand view into how food has been preserved historically, and learned that adding just a little sea salt to cabbage could promote the growth of probiotic bacteria. One student described how the same bacteria are present in yogurt, but not in their natural amounts. Probiotics are initially removed from the yogurt, then re-added later in the process. This workshop showed students how healthy “good bacteria” are a part of a balanced diet.

From sprouts to fermented veggies, the health food movement is definitely flourishing in Food, Media, and Literature!

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