Philosophers Think Deeply At PLU Food Symposium

By: Valery Jorgensen

A food symposium held at Pacific Lutheran University in April, is becoming a tradition thanks to the Philosophy department on campus.

A food symposium was started two years ago by Philosophy Professor Erin McKenna, and was repeated this year. A symposium is a conference held to discuss a particular subject. This year’s food symposium looked at the topic of food democracy.

“She was interested in the ethics of food,” Philosophy Professor Sergia Hay said.

Hay was asked by McKenna to carry on the food symposium this year. Hay established a committee to organize and put the event together. The event examined both local and global food access and different solutions to hunger. The symposium tied to PLU’s commitment to diversity, sustainability and justice.

A variety of community members were involved in the symposium, including Mt. Rainer Lutheran High School and Trinity Lutheran Church. According to Hay, it was an all around community event, for people on and off campus to come together and discuss hunger.

The event included a Key Note Speaker, Professor Thomas Pogge, who titled his lecture “The Hunger Games” and the philosophy behind food, along with goals to reduce the number of hungry people. The following day multiple panel discussions were held with a variety of experts on food. A community meal was held at Trinity Lutheran Church to close out the event.

Trinity Lutheran Church is home to a local food bank across the street from PLU’s campus. Trinity Lutheran Food Bank collects and distributes a large amount of locally grown food to their clients. The community meal was a way to interact with others and further discuss the topic of hunger.

“They give a whole new meaning to local because they use a lot of food they grow in their gardens,” Hay said of Trinity Lutheran Church’s food bank.

The food symposium overall was a success, according to Hay. The event had a large attendance and has received encouraging feedback.

“What was really amazing about the food symposium was the broad base of support and the broad base of interest,” Hay said.

The committee received funding from the Society of Philosophers in America which got them started. The goal of the symposium was to help the campus and surrounding community think about ways to move towards a more sustainable and just food system.

Hay explained how a philosopher’s goal is thoughtful inquiry and how that is achieved through inquiry. Philosophers challenge each other through dialog to think more clearly and help each other.

“When we are faced with difficult problems like solving hunger, it is important that we work together rather than in isolation,” Hay said. “Philosophy plays an important role in helping us define the challenges, questions and solutions, but realize this needs some inter-disciplinary focus because we all can bring different ideas.”

The symposium included six faculty members from five disciplines including chemistry, sociology, religion, philosophy and biology. Having members from a wide variety of disciplines brought various viewpoints and ideas to the discussion, Hay said.

Hay said it is an important topic and the symposium likely to continue every other year.

“Food is at the nexus of all kinds of concerns, so everybody has an interest in it and we all require it,” Hay said. “We often think of it as a problem that is over there in other places, but it is a problem that is here in our community, our local neighborhood.”

Hunger is a very real problem in our community. According to the Emergency Food Network, in Pierce County more than 115,000 visits are made to Food banks each month by children, adults and seniors. During 2013, more than 1.4 million visits were made to Food banks and nearly 13 million meals were provided in Pierce County. The food symposium raised awareness and started the discussion, however it does not stop here.

“In a country that has such an abundance of food, it is unacceptable and wrong that there are hungry people,” Hay said.


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