Gearing Up for a Great Conversation – Common Reading Program Sets Table for Lively Discussion

It’s an ag dean’s dream. Washington State University’s Common Reading Program for the year has the entire campus and much of the state and nation talking about food and agriculture. What better way to highlight the cutting-edge science, research, teaching and outreach of Washington’s land-grant university and, at the same time, help to educate our students about what they eat and where it comes from?

When the committee running the program first considered a book about food — The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan — they asked our college what we thought about their choice. Kim Kidwell, the associate dean for academic programs, immediately responded that we accept their selection and enthusiastically welcome the conversations it would spark.

It’s interesting — and somewhat amazing, really — that food and agriculture are just now becoming “hot topics” in the media. Very few things are as important or impact more people. And, yet, it’s only in just the past few years that we’ve seen an increasing interest and concern about the agricultural enterprise.

Because food is such a fundamental part of human life on this planet, it can be an emotional topic. The opportunity for the discussions we will have as a university community in the coming year is to make sure that we analyze, cuss and discuss ag and food systems using factual, science-based information. It is a great chance for students to research, contrast and compare differing views, weigh the evidence and draw their own conclusions.

We also have to make sure we consider the different facets of the issue. What does sustainability really mean? Do the economics pencil out? Can the techniques used on a small-farm scale translate into something that truly can feed the world, power the planet and save the environment? Why do some nations struggle with burgeoning obesity rates, while others worry whether their children will starve? What about water? What about fuel? What about climate change?

There is much to discuss.

Experts predict there will be eight billion more hungry mouths to feed by 2035. That fact alone increases the urgency of refining one of the most productive agricultural systems in the world into one that is economically and environmentally sustainable over the long haul.

Universities are especially suited for the kind of frank, factual, free-flowing conversation it takes to reach effective conclusions. As a Coug, I’m very proud that we’re tackling this complex issue head on. The College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences will be initiating and participating in a wide variety of activities related to the common reading program in the year to come. Stay tuned.

Go Cougs!