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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Digestive dissonance
October 19, 2011 - 8:35pm

I recently participated in an event on Greenback's campus where food was served to students. Food wasn't the main focus of the event, but "if you feed them, they will come," as most of us on campus learned a long time ago. The refreshments were products of industrial agriculture, and the event was supposed to be sustainability-themed, so I placed some info near the food table relating to the inherent unsustainability (calories in far greater than useful calories out) of our national food system.

Most of the students were in their first or second year on campus, and few of them were (I suspect) engineering or science majors -- it wasn't specifically an engineering- or science-related event. At a guess, I'd say that for most of them, the idea that calories can measure energy in all its forms and not just personal weight gain was a bit foreign. So the questions I got were mostly based in confusion, but some of the students were curious enough to ask. And once the units of measurement became clear, the message got through -- you can't keep spending more than you get back in return, not in the long run.

Even for the ones who didn't ask, I think I managed to create a little cognitive dissonance. They were eating free food. And they were liking the free food they were eating. And yet there was a message which seemed to imply that the food they were eating presented a problem.

Sometimes, creating even the tiniest bit of unease can stimulate a process of inquiry, and investigation, and re-thinking. For some of the students at the event, I hope I was able to discomfort them that tiny, little bit.


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