A Map of Detours – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

A Map of Detours

Honors Thesis Clocks Mileage in Rethinking The roadmap: when “green” guru Christine Moskell ’08 began her honors project in environmental studies, she was sure she knew how it would end up: a fast-track to supporting the new Local Food Movement, what she explains has become “the new organic.” Instead, what her honors work taught her was that there would be many detours, side-trips and a slight change of course ahead. Putting the key in the ignition: “I began my project studying and supporting the Local Food Movement, which promotes that we eat as locally to our plate as possible,” explained Moskell. “This reduces ‘food miles,’ the total distance that all of the food travels. Eating locally, therefore, reduces carbon emissions and is a much ‘greener’ way to eat.” Getting the green light: “Immediately, I was encouraged by my advisor, Assistant Professor Paul Kehle, to go ahead and live out this environmentally sustainable practice at the same time that I studied it critically,” Moskell said. “I started going to the Geneva Farmer’s Market, the Ithaca Farmer’s Market, Sauder’s grocery store in Seneca Falls and many other places that sold locally produced food. I found myself accumulating a bounty of in-season fresh fruit and vegetables and then canning and freezing the foods so that I could have local meals in the wintertime.” Caution! Ideas Under Re-Construction: “Just when I had gotten into the habit of eating locally and excited about my progress—I even maintained a 100 percent local diet for two weeks!—I came across an article in my research published by Lincoln University in New Zealand,” Moskell explained. “The article reported that foods grown in New Zealand and exported to Great Britain have a lower carbon footprint than the same foods grown and consumed locally in Great Britain. In other words, food miles didn’t always mean less carbon emission.” This study challenged the basic tenants of the local food movement and left Moskell even more confused. Could apples grown down the street have a greater carbon footprint than apples imported from far away? Gridlock: “After reading that article, I started finding others like it. So I started to ask: maybe eating locally isn’t as sustainable as I thought?” Moskell wondered. “Then more questions started to come up: what about the role of illegal immigrants in locally produced food? Aren’t there socioeconomic limitations on who can eat locally? Do I really want to waste my mandatory meal plan and never eat in student dining halls?” Detours and side-streets: “After researching all of the benefits as well as disadvantages to eating locally, I realized that local foods needed to be intermixed with other environmentally and socially responsible foods, such as fair trade,” Moskell said. “I didn’t think concern for lowering food miles should automatically rule out the social benefits of buying fair trade coffee or chocolate.” So what’s her recommendation? “In short, eat local when possible, strive for whole fruits and vegetables and minimal consumption of highly processed foods. When buying a food that isn’t available locally, and it must be imported (coffee, chocolate, spices, olive oil, etc), strive to find a fairly traded product. Organic is important, too, but watch for loopholes in labeling and certification regulations that still allow for some non-organic ingredients. A new final destination: “I first envisioned my honors project as defending the Local Food Movement, but in the end, I realized there are hidden social issues that inform our food choices. I titled my thesis “The Human Ecology of the Local Food Movement: A Personal Perspective,” to document my discovery of the connections between myself, the food I eat and the people and places who produce my food within the entire arc of my experience eating locally grown foods,” Moskell explained. “After all of its questioning and rethinking, the essay ultimately asks the ever-important yet everyday question: what am I going to eat for dinner?” In the rearview mirror: “Looking back on this year of living my honors thesis, there’s an array of memories,” Moskell reflects. “I’ll never forget being stopped by other students in the Cellar Pub or the Café for being the “Local Food Girl” and holding ice cream from who knows where; inviting the housemates of my Odell’s unit into my project by cooking locally for them; and learning how to can vegetables and other foods, something that connected me to my grandmother, who canned all the time. It was also exciting to integrate the knowledge I had gained in my environmental studies coursework with my personal life to actually reduce my individual ecological footprint.” Full of side-trips, back-tracking and re-mapping, Moskell’s honors project—like many road trips—got interesting when she got a little lost, very curious and ultimately off the map.

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