It was safe to say that the first week back from October break found us all more refreshed and ready for the second half of the semester. For that Wednesday night family dinner, we had Professor Yu Zhou (from the Geography department, with a focus in economic geography) joining us for a hot meal consisting of stir fried veggies with tofu and rice, as well as stir fried venison, and a bed of fresh salad on the side. As a house, this was our first time cooking venison (thanks to Alicia’s lovely uncle for giving us some) stir-fried with fresh veggies – and it was a hit! Our dinner conversation was slight hearted as we chatted a little about each of our fieldwork sites.
The conversation slowly drifted towards how we thought the quality of food should be an important factor during consumption, but for some, such as the Danish, that was just not their priority. Yu Zhou then brought up her research she conducted in China in relation to food consumption, and she questioned us how are we to create a food production system without the problems we see in the U.S? Considering the rate at which GDP and consumption patterns are growing in China, the way in which China decides to move forward will have a profound effect on the rest of the world. It was interesting to learn from Yu Zhou that there had been a CSA started in Beijing in 2002, called ‘Little Donkey Farm’, which had been met with great success. Since their opening, there has been an increase in the number of CSAs in Beijing – something that she felt proud to say. Towards the end of dinner, Yu Zhou commended on the dishes that were cooked and wished us well for the second half of the semester!
The next day, we spent the good part of the day with David Pimentel, who is a professor of entomology at Cornell University. Over the years, he has published in a number of different scientific journals and was the very first person to publish an article on the ethanol industry. David Pimentel also chairs an advisory committee that looks at ethanol as a gasoline alternative for the US secretary of Energy. His vast knowledge on such issues has strengthened the committee’s main conclusion: ethanol requires more energy to produce than it delivers. During our morning classes, we spent a good amount of time talking to him about his thoughts on the ethanol industry as well as how he used a multi-disciplinary framework to draw from to tackle the issues surrounding the ethanol industry. David Pimentel actually started his own ‘MLLC’ in Cornell called the ‘National Academy Committee’ whereby students came together, and drew upon interdisciplinary frameworks to research issues surrounding energy and agriculture that were published in different scientific journals.
David Pimentel stressed that it was important to “read everything that is in the literature”, as that is where the wealth of information can be found and the “science does not lie”. Over the years, Pimentel has become and increasingly controversial figure, and has been the target of many critics. But is was refreshing to see that this man, who has come under heavy scrutiny and is the target of many unnecessary comments, can still sit there with a smile on his face, and continues to be passionate in publishing information to the public for our own benefit.
The pizza lunch that followed brought more of the Vassar community into conversation surrounding the production of ethanol from food crops. David Pimentel highlighted that according to the UN, 66% of the world population is malnourished, and thus the ethanol industry is contributing to world starvation as food is being redirected away from these people. We discussed the unhealthy consumption habits around the world that continues to grow, and David Pimentel also made clear that he thought our world population size was also just too big to be supported by one planet earth.
After lunch, we took a short break and the MLLC brought Pimentel for a breath of fresh air at Peach Hill – a beautiful public parkland in Poughkeepsie that is also the highest point in the Town of Poughkeepsie! Shortly after that, we all re-congregated in the CCMPR for David Pimentel’s lecture on biofuel production, followed by a short Q&A. The day seemed to have zipped by fast, and we soon found ourselves exchanging our thanks and goodbyes (but we managed to snap a quick group picture as he wished us well for the upcoming second half of fall semester)!