Dordt College News

Food for Thought

January 23, 2012

Across campus, people have heard about “the food course” offered last semester.

Its notoriety is probably connected to the lab activities that were part of the class.

To help students understand what it takes to produce the food they buy, Dr. Chris Goedhart had his students raise and then butcher and “dress” chickens.

“Learning how to kill a chicken was something I had never done before and something I hope I never have to do again, but I learned a lot about differing views people have on how animals should be raised in order to fit God’s command of taking care of the earth,” says Bethany Hulst, a sophomore from Michigan.

Students learned how long it takes to get a chicken ready to bring to the table. They also learned that it takes skill to raise and process food manually, and they gained some sense of what working at a minimum wage job in a plant is like.

Over the semester, students visited food production facilities, including large and small dairies, and an organic CSA, a small farm that grows vegetables for customers who buy an annual summer subscription to a weekly share of produce.Food for Thought

“We examined some of the ethical issues involved in raising crops and livestock and learned how to prepare a variety of foods in the lab,” says Kelly Smies, a senior from Wisconsin.

Interest in food has grown in the past few years. The number of books on food and how it is produced seems to increase each year. But, even within agriculture programs like Dordt’s, the emphasis has been on producing rather than consuming food. The growing interest and growing pressure on environmental resources made Dordt’s agriculture department decide that it was time to offer “Food: Connecting to Life.”

“Even in rural areas many people don’t know much about where their food comes from and how it is produced,” says Goedhart.

Goedhart taught the first version of the course last fall to 24 non-science students; another 40 students are taking it this spring with Dr. John Olthoff. Demand has been so high that science majors who want to take the course have been turned away because the seats are saved for non-science majors needing a laboratory science course to fulfill their Core curriculum requirements.

Most students in Goedhart’s class come in with a strong interest in food and health; some say they don’t know much more about food than what they like and don’t like to eat. Goedhart asks all of them to think about where they get their information about food and then points them to sources and websites that give nutritional information and a scientific basis for making choices.

“I took the class to learn more about food and because it seemed the most interesting of the course options. I know that I do not eat very nutritionally and wanted to learn more about food,” says junior Jordan Edens from Washington.

“The course really challenged us to think about where all of the foods that we buy at the supermarket are actually coming from,” says Smies.

“College-age students often don’t see the consequences of their food choices,” says Goedhart. They eat what looks good to them and usually stay healthy because they’re young. It’s hard for them to think about long-term effects in that context.”

Goedhart points to things as basic as calories and gradual weight gain, noting that a pound of weight gain a year can have a significant long-term effect on total weight and eventual health issues. As in every other part of their lives, he wants his students to make discerning choices based on what they know about how God created them and the world they live in.

“Our food system is very dependent on the availability of reasonably priced oil,” Goedhart tells his students. He points to studies that estimate that our industrial food system takes an average of seven to 10 calories of energy to produce one calorie of food energy. Modern growing practices, food processing and storage, and transporting food products thousands of miles from field to consumer require large amounts of energy.

Goedhart’s goal is to help his students develop a beginning awareness of such issues so that they can investigate them further on their own, come to understand the current cultural situation, and be prepared to make choices that they believe are right.

What does he want them to leave with?

A willingness to step into the kitchen and see working with food as an enjoyable and easy activity.

“The old adage is mostly true: If you can read, you can cook,” he says. “If you’re willing, you can be less dependent on processed food and make healthier choices,” he says.

A new perspective on the challenges in farming.

“It’s impossible to have sustainable farming without having a sustainable culture,” Goedhart notes. Based on what they know, many of his students think it would be better to consume grass-fed meat. When they realize the cost of farm land, the amount of time and effort it takes to raise cows, and consumer demand for large quantities of meat at cheap prices, they see the complexity of the issues.

“The best way to find out what consumers believe is to watch where their dollars go,” says Goedhart.

See science as a tool beyond the lab that they can use to learn about what is important for living a discerning life.

Goedhart would be quick to add that decisions are based on more than science, but that science is one tool that can help us make choices.

“I enjoyed learning about the impact the government has on food production and marketing, and I was very interested in hearing about the plight of farmers trying to balance growing a product they are proud of and maintaining a business to survive on,” says senior Rachel Van Essen from Ontario. “I was grateful to Professor Goedhart for trying to tailor the material we covered to what we were interested in, and it was fun to make things like cheese and yogurt in class.”

Goedhart hopes more share this student’s response: “I don’t like science much, but this is the most enjoyable science class I’ve ever taken. It was so applicable to my life.”


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