It opened my eyes: “Introduction to U.S. Food Systems”

A couple of years ago, I took a class titled An Introduction to U.S. Food Systems:  Perspectives from Public Health.  Dry sounding, eh?  It was offered by Johns Hopkins University through the web-based Coursera classroom.  As boring as the title sounds, it shifted my thinking about food. I had already taken a couple of technology courses through Coursera, and I like the idea of taking classes through the web.  Browsing Coursera’s catalog, I came across Food Systems and thought, “what the heck.”  (The course is still available.  The latest session ended in March.)  The course is free.  The only cost is your time sitting in front of a computer screen (or smartphone or tablet) listening to lectures, and reading assigned material.

I must confess, I didn’t read all the material.  Well, actually, I read virtually none of the material.  Yet I scored in the 90 – 95% range on the tests.  The reason is I paid attention to the online lectures.  They were very interesting to me.  I think I was ripe (cough) to learn about other dimensions to food. I’m not talking about recipes or cooking.  I’m talking about being a responsible consumer of food.  Learning about the processes of producing and delivering that tomato from Mexico, or chicken breast from Arkansas.  Learning what food processes are healthy and sustainable.  I learned I can “vote with my fork.”


I need to shrink my Ecological Footprint (right) to the size of my greyhound’s (left).


Besides learning about Meatless Mondays, my Ecological Footprint, Industrial Food Production, The Farm Bill, and Local Food Systems, I was introduced to Community-Supported Agriculture.  Unfortunately, my notes from the classes are scant.  Some of the details passed in one ear and out the other.  But the phrase “Community-Supported Agriculture” stuck. It was the first time “CSA” entered my vocabulary.  So when we joined the Blandford Nature Center last summer and heard about CSA shares, a light bulb flashed.

I’m not going to tell you the Food Systems course transformed my life.  That would be BS.  It did start me to think about what I eat, and is it the right thing.  It caused me to stop being on auto-pilot when I grab something off the shelf.

I’m still a carnivore and have a long way to go on my journey of food.  My goal now is to make smarter choices about what I eat:  smarter for my health, my family (dogs count), my community, and as a good steward of the planet.  Heck, I still like my annual Burger King fix (where my stomach always asks afterwards, “and why do we do this?”)

I want to leave you with a few resources in case I piqued your interest:

I must confess, Meatless Mondays still intrigue me.  I haven’t planned any Meatless Mondays for our menus; however, now that I have an abundant source of produce, this will be one of my resources for recipes and ideas.

Until next time, post your tips below for a newbie CSA member and closet foodie.

D Gillen

Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook. His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies. Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water. Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.


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