Food Day encourages sustainability, educates students

Geneseo Environmental Organization celebrated annual Food Day on Friday Oct. 24 with a panel discussion in Bailey 203. This year’s talk addressed the themes of food access and food justice. Sustainability director Dan DeZarn, philosophy professor Dr. Carlo Filice, geology professor Dr. Jeff Over, and local farmers Eli Rubin and Chelsea Reinhart spoke at the event, which was catered by CAS. Geneseo Environmental Organization has been celebrating Food Day for years, but this semester’s talk had its biggest turnout yet. “We just wanted to raise awareness about food issues, food justice and sustainable ways that people can interact with our food system and change their habits to make it better,” GEO president senior Jessica Kroenert said.

The topics of discussion included the environmental impact of factory farming and eating local and genetically modified organisms. There seemed to be a general consensus among the speakers that eating locally grown foods as much as possible is ideal. This can be challenging, however. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, just 2 percent of United States families live on farms and ranches.

Growers at local Bean Hill Farm themselves, both Rubin and Reinhart are passionate about locally-sourced foods. “Working outside with your hands every day is pretty great,” Reinhart said.

Both she and Rubin attended college and arrived at their chosen career path later in life—not because they were born into it, but because they loved it. “I just really like the work and couldn’t imagine doing anything else at this point,” Rubin said.

Professor and Chair of the philosophy department Carlo Filice has also had experience with locally grown food. He was born on a farm in Cosenza, Italy, where he lived until he was 15. “My family moved away because it was too hard to make a living on a family farm in Italy,” Filice said.

He added that his academic background has made food—specifically, ethically obtained food—a priority in his life. “The ethics of food is one of my great interests in philosophy,” he said. He believes that factory farming is unethical toward animals and has been a vegetarian for 33 years.

Director of Sustainability Dan DeZarn addressed the issue of factory farming from a more direct, ecological standpoint. “In simple terms, when you tear up the environment, it makes it more difficult to live in,” he said. Rubin added that “factory farms make it very hard to be a [small-scale] meat producer” and that massive companies like Purdue Farms make for “an unfair playing field.”

The speakers were largely in agreement about how little is known about the effects of GMOs. “We don’t know the health effects because these things aren’t labeled,” Reinhart said. Reinhart emphasized that he is advises caution when it comes to genetically-altered foods. DeZarn seemed equally wary of the potential problems associated with GMOs, advocating for gardens in addition to eating locally grown foods.

Several of the speakers acknowledged that eating local is a challenge, especially for students living on campus. “If you’re really interested in doing it right, you’re going to have to adjust your expectations of what you’re going to eat and when,” DeZarn said.

Professor of earth history, paleontology and stratigraphy Jeffrey Over offered more blunt advice for students looking to eat local. “You can all slow down your lives,” he said. “Stop buying [prepared] dinners and learn to cook.”