The Geography of Food

Thursday, 18. February 2021

Sarah Schnack, one of our newest faculty members at the Ecole, recently joined us from The International School of Panama. This term she is teaching an exciting new course called, The Geography of Food.

In this course designed for younger learners, our students are using Michael Polin’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma as their guiding text. Following the structure of Polin’s book, the students are learning about the industrial food system, alongside different modalities of food production: industrial organic; local, small-scale farming; and finally, hunting and foraging.

As with any Geography class, the students are learning about broader themes of human interaction with the environment, in this case through the lens of the food system. Students are not only exploring concepts such as what “organic” truly means, they're also learning practical skills such as reading maps, and interpreting charts and graphs.

While learning about the food system, Sarah’s students are also developing critical thinking and reasoning skills. Sarah mentioned that her students have “a wide-ranging variety of backgrounds,” different values, and different experiences interacting with the food system. This leads to many lively discussions in the class, for example about the merits or demerits of a Big Mac.

A regular topic of discussion in Sarah’s class is the use of absolute language, biases, and point of view. Sarah is prompting her learners to examine, for example, the way an author of the source material is placing emphasis on a particular argument, and then asking her students to reflect on how this might influence the author’s message. These discussions are proving to be fruitful opportunities to explore concepts in Social Sciences that extend beyond the subject of Geography, and add to our students’ intellectual tool kits.

But! Back to food! At the Ecole, we are nestled between forest and farm, and we have the unique opportunity to come into direct contact with the farmers and foragers who produce our food. We source much of our food, especially milk and meat, directly from local farmers, and this presents possibilities for field trips to local farms, and talks with our Head Chef who is a passionate advocate of sustainable food production. The class will also explore topics such as Mycology, the biology of fungi, with Ecolianers who are expert in that fascinating field.

Sarah and her students are enjoying their class together, and we’re excited that Sarah is using the important subject of Food as a lens through which to explore valuable intellectual skills.