NWEI course organizer and facilitator Tamara Houston has been organizing NWEI discussion courses at the Ashland Food Co-op in Ashland, Oregon and her efforts were featured this week in the Mail Tribune. Tamara first learned about the Northwest Earth Institute while working at Reed College in Portland, where she participated in two discussion courses. Attending these courses opened her eyes to how daily choices – and small changes – can reduce ones environmental footprint. Returning full circle, Tamara will be facilitating an upcoming Menu for the Future course at the Ashland Food Co-op. Read on for an excerpt of her interview with Sarah Lemon.
Organic blueberries from across the continent leave an environmental footprint that belies their health benefits. Reducing the far-reaching social and environmental costs of these and other common foods, says Tamara Houston, isn’t a tough sell in the Rogue Valley. “People here are really into what they eat.”
Passionate eaters of all persuasions can join Houston April 6 through May 11 in Ashland for weekly discussions on food and sustainability. “Menu for the Future” is a course constructed by Northwest Earth Institute and offered by Ashland Food Co-op to illustrate the effects of everyday eating habits on both the environment and human experience across the globe…
“There’s no right answer,” says Houston. “It’s a way to get people thinking.” A philosophical look at food-system sustainability was well-received last summer, says Houston. While NWEI’s “Hungry for Change” puts food into an ethical, macroscopic framework, “Menu for the Future” is a practical guide to making conscientious consumer choices, says Houston. “They help you to prioritize your choices financially,” she says. “There are things that you learn that you don’t even expect to learn.”
In Houston’s case, chocolate and blueberries represented major shifts in her thinking. She says she was surprised in both instances to learn that some of her grocery-buying habits conflicted with her values. NWEI courses illuminate issues in a variety of formats, says Houston, from works of fiction to scientific journals to opinion pieces published in newspapers and magazines. Preparing for each hour-long discussion group entails several pages of reading, she adds. “It’s a really low commitment,” says Houston. “You get out of it what you put into it.”
Houston’s first brush with NWEI came at Portland’s Reed College, where she worked a decade ago in administration. Her lunch hours offered opportunities to meet and talk with co-workers facilitated by NWEI curriculum. The Portland-based nonprofit organization provides 10 discussion course books for use in schools, the workplace, places of faith and worship, as well as throughout the community. “It was just a way to get to know my colleagues better,” says Houston. “You get to hear the opinion of someone else and consider it.”
When Houston, 39, moved to Ashland two years ago to work as a physician’s assistant, she gravitated toward NWEI discussions as a way of delving into her new community. Jackson County residents, she says, have proven their commitment to sustainable agriculture since banning the cultivation of genetically modified crops. “I really think the topic is apropos for where we live.”