Marshall history department provides food, perspective during Food Past/Food Future event


Blake Newhouse

Students tried free locally produced food and discussed seasonality, sustainability and immigration at the second annual Food Past/Food Future event in Harris Hall Oct. 29.

Immigration, sustainability and seasonality were the topics for the history department’s second annual Food Past/Food Future event Tuesday on Marshall University’s campus.

The event first took place last year, with faculty members and graduates handing out locally produced food to students to express their appreciation, and has grown this year to incorporate modern issues that affect the community.

“We wanted to do something to give back for student appreciation and decided we could do something with the faculty and graduates preparing food for Marshall University students,” said Greta Rensenbrink, head of the history department at Marshall. “Then we got this idea of food in the past and food in the future, sort of thinking about food sustainability because we have a couple people in the department who are thinking about creating a Food Studies minor.”

After attending an event at Harvard University over the summer where Delores Huerta, a historic civil and labor rights activist, talked about how immigration should be included in the sustainability discussion, Rensenbrink said she was inspired to incorporate immigration into the event on campus.

“We’re having this sustainability discussion about food in our country, but what we don’t talk about is the fact that most of our food is being raised and produced by people who were born in other countries,” Rensenbrink said. “There is a really strong power tie with immigration and the sort of rights, conditions and situations in migrant farm laborers, and farmers in general.”

Rensenbrink used the example of pepperoni rolls as an example of a food that was brought into our culture by immigrants coming into this state for work and said that by bringing issues such as immigration into the discussion of sustainability, it allows students to think differently about the subjects.

“People just don’t recognize these connections,” Rensenbrink said. “We want people to think differently and sometimes juxtaposing these things that we are not used to thinking about in the same way can help inspire that.”

The Dietetics Program at Marshall University prepared homemade cornbread and apple cider for the students, focusing on the seasonality portion of the event, while the Wild Ramp brought local walnuts, which the students could crack open themselves.

Others, such as Christopher White, a professor of history at Marshall, brought plants, nuts and fruits he had foraged himself, showing the students how they can choose to be sustainable even while they are doing activities as simple as walking through a park.

The Sustainability Department was also present at the event, giving away produce that was grown in the local student garden.

Vikki Mitchell, an employee for the university’s Sustainability Department, said events such as this one will help spread the idea that sustainability is possible for students on campus.

“It’s spreading awareness to let students know that everything can be sustainable,” Mitchell said. “If your local grocery store doesn’t sell something, it doesn’t mean you can’t grow it at home. That’s why we grow what we do here for the students because of lot of them have trouble finding healthy choices at their grocery stores, especially our international students.”

The garden is made possible through the help of volunteers, and Mitchell said the department welcomes any students who would want to assist in the various activities.

“We welcome as many volunteers that will show up. Some days we need people to just weed, or plant, and of course we always need help with harvesting,” Mitchell said. “All of this is for the students, and when we do have market day, we ask for a small donation, but with that money, we buy seed for any supplies we need, so it’s all going back into the program.”

The event has grown since last year, according to Rensenbrink, and they hope to continue the event next year, helping it to become even larger.

“This year we kind of expanded it and invited the community garden people, the dietetics folks and the Wild Ramp, and you could see that today, we had a line of people waiting to attend the event that stretched down the hallway,” Rensenbrink said. “We are hoping that next year we can get an even larger room because there is a lot of enthusiasm surrounding it.”

Blake Newhouse can be contacted at [email protected].