Five Key Lessons

Edible Education 101


Edible Education, the popular food-systems course originated by Michael Pollan and Alice Waters, has found a permanent home at the College of Natural Resources. This spring, Professor Emeritus Garrison Sposito taught the course with two cohosts: Pulitzer Prize–winning poetry professor Robert Hass and New York Times writer Mark Bittman, who was a distinguished visiting scholar at the Berkeley Food Institute. You can watch the lectures online at For now, here are five key lessons:

  1. Eating is an ecological act. Our food choices may well be our most powerful engagement with the land and with other species. The modern agricultural system has dramatically altered our landscape and the composition of species on Earth. As Wendell Berry put it, “How we eat determines how the world is used.”

  2. The food system has transformed in just a few decades. In the 1930s, U.S. food markets had 1,000 products on their shelves. Today, our supermarkets offer up to 40,000 products, many of which are highly processed. With new technologies and fewer farmers, our food system is efficient but has significant environmental, social, and health costs.

  3. The planet needs biodiversity. The industrial food system largely consists of farms growing single crops year after year and animals being raised in factorylike settings. These practices have very high yields but also create a dependence on harmful hormones, fertilizers, and pesticides.

  4. Food is central to many of our biggest problems. For example, food production and distribution comprises 20 percent of U.S. fossil fuel consumption. And 75 percent of health care expenditure goes to treating diet-related diseases. So when we make progress in reforming our food system, we’ll also make progress on energy, health care, and climate change issues.

  5. We’re in this together. Improving sustainable and urban agriculture, advocating for farmworkers and food workers, promoting public health—the food movement includes many perspectives, but has a systems view.