Campus Community

Land of Plenty

Written by Janice Murphy

October 28, 2014

the fountain at the Quad with Fall trees in the background

Autumn is a time for counting our blessings and remembering our responsibilities.

If summer expands our horizons, autumn often finds us pulling in, provisioning and taking stock. In the long days and mild air of summer, hiking a steep mountain trail or traveling to a far off country felt right-paced. Pushing out into the world, opening our eyes to new sights was exhilarating and rewarding. 

And as we mirror the pace of the natural world, autumn draws us inward. We watch the leaves fall to the ground and know that they will provide the raw material for next year's growth of the trees. Seedpods have formed, ripened and hold all the elements for a new generation of plant life in the spring. In the temperate world, most insects have entered a stage in their life cycle that is a time of waiting: a cocoon, an egg, a period of pause. 

And so it seems that we humans will pause too, and check in on our internal thoughts.

A reflection on the summer's passing for me includes wonder at the bounty that our glorious, mild (ok, downright hot) stretch of weather produced. In the garden, abundance took on almost surreal proportions. Who knew you could struggle to keep up with endlessly ripening tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest? And squash, as big as my arm, were arriving daily from seemingly out of nowhere. Now as the vines die away, I see the ones I missed; too soft, overripe, already melting back into the earth. It feels like a waste. Time and resources, all the water, the compost, the energy of my own body to grow this food should have resulted in it nourishing, if not myself, then another human being. 

My food waste problem is a micro-example of a serious problem that plays out routinely across our nation. Incredibly, 40 percent of good food is wasted every day in the US. Worldwide, one-third of food produced for human consumption does not get consumed by people, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

It's a complex problem, with waste and loss occurring at every step of the food supply route from production, harvest and processing to transportation, storage, right down to our own refrigerators. And you can use your imagination to multiply my concerns about the water and compost wasted on my little plot to envision a staggering loss of resources worldwide. 

The issue of hunger and lack of access to nutritious, healthy food also plagues this land of plenty. The USDA reported that, in 2013, 17.5 million families in this country had difficulty getting food into their homes. How have we allowed this immense breakdown to develop? Of course, the answer to that question is a complex one too. 

Luckily, there are organizations working at all levels to turn this condition around. If you want to be filled with hope for a brighter future, come to Seattle University's celebration of Food Day tonight, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. in Campion Ballroom. You'll be treated to delicious, locally sourced foods prepared by Bon App├ętit (Food Lifeline's Corporate Donor of the year for 2014!) And you'll hear about how local groups are tackling these twin problems, including dedicated SU students, using their time and energy to address these issues locally. And you can find out how you can join in the effort to make good food accessible to all.

Janice Murphy is integrated pest management coordinator in the Grounds Department.