Michael Pollan. Photo: Fran Collin

Tonight marks the return of Edible Education at Cal, with solo instructor Michael Pollan kicking off the 16-week course. The class is open to both undergraduate and graduate students — and, like last year, some 300 free seats are reserved for the public. (See details below for nabbing a ticket to these popular sessions, which typically fill to capacity each week.)

The Graduate School of Journalism professor, and guest speakers from the food and farming world, will examine the future of farming and food and explore how the U.S.’s industrialized food system impacts the environment, health, farm and food workers, as well as the culture at large.

“Food politics are in the forefront of students’ minds these days,” said Pollan, known to tackle wonky food subjects in compelling prose in bestselling books such as “In Defense of Food.” “They like hearing from non-academics — activists, farmers, and journalists.”

This year’s line-up for Edible Education 103: Telling Stories About Food and Agriculture reflects that interest. “I’m particularly excited that we’ll be hearing from two of the greatest innovators in American agriculture: gifted farmers Joel Salatin from Virginia and Bob Cannard from Petaluma,” said Pollan. “And Wendell Berry is one of my most important mentors and favorite writers. The idea that I might introduce students to his work is, well, exactly why I teach– a privilege.”

Underwritten by UC alum Alice WatersEdible Schoolyard Project, the class follows the same format as it did last fall: each week, a prominent speaker will address a challenge in the food system and explore ways it might be healthier, more equitable and more sustainable.

Subjects covered by this year’s syllabus include meaty matters such as the Farm Bill, childhood obesity, and food, race and labor. Foodophiles take note: the class features Waters, The Kitchen Sisters, Chez Panisse chef Jerome Waag, restaurateur Charlie Hallowell, chef-fundraiser Samin Nosrat, food science author Harold McGee, and academic Raj Patel, author of “Stuffed and Starved.”

Scenes from “Our Daily Bread” by performer Amara Tabor-Smith, who co-leads UC’s upcoming workshop From the Field to the Table. Photos: Ana Teresa Fernandez
Scenes from “Our Daily Bread” by performer Amara Tabor-Smith, who co-leads UC’s upcoming workshop From the Field to the Table. Photos: Ana Teresa Fernandez

Also served up at school this year: the five-week workshop From the Field to the Table at UC’s Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. Along with students, members of the public working in food justice and food policy arenas are encouraged to participate in the project, which will culminate in performances at Zellerbach Playhouse in October. (See details below.)

“Many of us have been disconnected from our food systems and don’t know where our food comes from. The time is ripe for this work,” said Amara Tabor-Smith, who will co-lead the course with fellow faculty member Lisa Wymore and Paloma McGregor of New York’s Urban Bush Women, a contemporary dance company that explores the African diaspora.  “And, as abundant as we are in the Bay Area, we still have communities that don’t have access to fresh food.”

How the workshop class unfolds will depend on the participants in the project. But a component the co-facilitators call “community engagement” is key. “Once school starts, students are kind of in lock down, they tend to only engage with other students, not the greater community,” said Tabor-Smith. “By inviting community, artists, and food activists in as equal members of the process students have the opportunity to interact with people around food that they may not normally meet.”

Tabor-Smith, a modern dancer and choreographer who founded Deep Waters Dance Theater, has explored food before in a performance “Our Daily Bread,” which returns to CounterPULSE theater in San Francisco in November. “Eating with people breaks down barriers like nothing else,” Tabor-Smith told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s an intimate act and it’s a necessity. There’s something about when you bring people to the table…food is a key that opens a door for people to share their stories.”

The details:

Edible Education 103: Telling Stories About Food and Agriculture

Tuesdays, August 28-December 4, 6:00 p.m. – 7:45 p.m., Wheeler Auditorium, Bancroft Way

Information about each lecture and free public registration at The Edible Schoolyard Project. Registration starts at 10am on the Wednesday before the next week’s Tuesday lecture.

From the Field to the Table

Workshop Information Night: Wednesday, August 29, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Bancroft Dance Studio 2401 Bancroft St. Facilitators Lisa Wymore and Amara Tabor-Smith will discuss the scope of the project, what to expect, and how to get involved. Visit From the Field to the Table.

Performances: Zellerbach Playhouse, Friday October 12 and Saturday, Oct. 13 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday Oct. at 2:00 p.m. More information, including ticketing at TDPS and Ticket Turtle.

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Alice Waters, Robert Reich talk up a delicious revolution [11.07.11]
Michael Pollan: New food rules, but no need to be neurotic [11.02.11]
Nikki Henderson: On the frontlines of edible education [08.19.11]
Tickets expected to go fast for Michael Pollan’s food class [07.28.11]
Author Ral Patel’s food revolution: From chips to salad [04.01.11]
Berkeley Bites: Alice Waters [10.22.10]
Berkeley Bites: Samin Nosrat [06.25.10]
A taste of justice [02.22.10]

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