Sacred Food and Carbon Footprint

Hirsh Diamant, The Evergreen State College


Sacred Food and Carbon Footprint examines the cultural and religious concept of sacred and the ecological concept of carbon footprint through participatory workshops, shared ritual meals, research, and student centered learning. This curriculum examines how understanding of "big ideas" in cultural or religious studies and ecology can help students to become grounded, focused, mindful, and engaged world citizens.

Learning Goals

Our world today is going through unprecedented ecological, social, and cultural changes. Globalization is characterized by increasing cultural homogenation, which brings destruction of local cultures and rampant nationalism and religious fundamentalism that promotes intolerance of other cultures. Driven by profit, global corporations compete for shrinking world resources and continue ecological destruction of world environment. In times of these uncertain global transformations it is important to create meaningful lesson plans and curriculum that can help our students to find a centering, constructive, and mindful relationship with the world.

Context for Use

Timeframe: SF&CF curriculum requires about three hours of class time facilitated by the instructor and about three hours of homework and research by students. SF&CF curriculum could be carried out at any time of the term. The sequence of activities is as follows:
  • One hour in class - Introduction to SF&CF curriculum:
* key concepts in cultural and religious studies: Sacred and Profane, Ritual, and Sacrifice;
*key concepts in ecology: Carbon Footprint, Ecological Footprint, and Life Cycle.
  • One hour in class - Ritual meal, or potluck with a follow up activity in sensory writing, or poetry.
  • Three hours at home -reading, research, and writing a research paper.
  • One hour in class - Seminar; sharing of research papers, exchange of ideas.
Possible Use in Other Courses: SF&CF curriculum and lesson plans could be used in liberal arts colleges and in classes focusing on ecology, religious studies, philosophy, and general education.

Description and Teaching Materials

A Brief Description of the Integrative Assignment

After the key concepts of Sacred and Carbon Footprint are introduced in class, students learn about a particular ceremony connected with food. As an example, this SF&CF curriculum introduces Oriyoki, a ritual Zen meal, and Welcoming of Shabbat, a ritual Jewish meal. Meals from other religious and cultural traditions could be used depending on community resources and preferences of the instructor. Following the ritual sharing of food, students are assigned readings and writing of a two to three page research paper. This research paper has three parts; in part one, students either continue exploring the ritual meal they participated in class, or research a ritual from their own cultural, religious or ethnic background. In part two, students calculate their own personal carbon footprint. In part three, students draw conclusions on how to reduce their own carbon footprint and how the SF&CF activities helped them in cultivating mindfulness and world awareness.

The Learning Activities

The instructor can introduce the key concepts of SF&CF curriculum in class. Food is one of the common necessities shared by all people. Eating connects us with the world in literal and metaphorical sense; we actually ingest the world. All cultures develop rituals and ceremonies to sanctify this connection and to evoke in the participants a sense of reverence and community. In my work this past year I organized with my students a ritual Oriyoki, Zen meal.

For our Oriyoki meal we cooked simple ingredients: rice, cauliflower, and broccoli. The ceremony consisted of leading the participants in uniformed choreographed movements as they unwrapped their dishes and chopsticks, passed the balls with food, bowed to each other, etc. The complete meal was done in silence with only the voice of a leader giving instructions.

My own experience of Oriyoki meal was a complete satisfaction with a small amount of simple food that I thoroughly enjoyed. Students wrote in their comments about a sense of community and how deliberate intentions deepened their experience.

Our class also visited a local Chabad house3 for a traditional Jewish meal and Welcoming of Shabbat. Shabbat is the most important ritual observance in Judaism. Shabbat is compared to mystical "Bride of Israel" who descends as the Shechinah glory. One of the main features of the ritual is the beautiful hymn Lekha Dodi, "Come, My Beloved." The Shabbat meal has special dishes, bread, and order.

The mindfulness and sacredness of food and communal meal is accentuated by special foods associated with Shabbat, including challah, mazah ball soup, etc. An important part of the meal is the order in which it is carried out with lighting of the candles, wine blessing, washing hands, etc. The epitome of order in communal eating is exemplified in Ceder meal for Passover. The word "ceder" means "order" in Hebrew.

After the meal it is good to share stories, songs, and lead the participants in exercise of writing about the experience. This writing can take a form of poetry or sensory writing where attention is given to all senses and the experiences are articulated5 through each of the senses.

Following the communal experiences of sharing ritual meals students were introduced to key ecological concepts of carbon footprint, ecological footprint, and life cycle. A carbon footprint is defined as "the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product" The name "carbon footprint" originated from the concept of ecological footprint which is a measure of how much Earth's ecological systems are necessary to support human demand. Globally, we now require the equivalent of 1.4 planets to support our lifestyles.

Specifically with teaching SF&CF curriculum I found that it is helpful to introduce students to the ecological concepts of life cycle assessment (LCA). A good introduction to LCA is the animated "Story of Stuff", introduced by Annie Leonard7 An LCA of a product includes all the production processes and services associated with the product through its life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials through production of the materials which are used in the manufacture of the product, over the use of the product, to its recycling and/or ultimate disposal of some of its constituents. Such a complete life cycle is also often named "cradle to grave.

After an introduction to key ecological concepts of Carbon Footprint, Ecological Footprint, and Life Cycle, students were asked to examine web sites that assist in calculating Carbon and Ecological Footprint. Many fun and interactive Web sites with good visuals have been developed on the Web for calculating ones footprint9

I am also including with this curriculum the handout on "Sustainability, Audits, Inventories & Resources for the Curriculum" developed by TESC Office of Sustainability.

After examining different websites students wrote a two to three page research paper where they continued examining concepts of sacred, food, and carbon footprint. It is important to direct students to draw connections in their writing between these concepts and their experiences. I also asked students to articulate how they envision reducing their own carbon footprint.

The important part of SF&CF curriculum is the concluding seminar where students can exchange and read each other's research papers and have a conversation about what they learned. The seminar and research paper allow the learning to become self directed and owned by students.

Student Handout: Oriyoki Meal (Microsoft Word 390kB Nov7 11)
Sustainability, Audits, Inventories and Resources for the Curriculum (Microsoft Word 39kB Nov7 11)
"Living in the Sacred Garden" Syllabi (Microsoft Word 28kB Nov7 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips


Both formal and informal assessment could be used in SF&CF curriculum. The success can be measured by students' involvement in ritual meals and participatory workshops, by the quality of their research papers, and by their participation in the final seminar. An important part of the assessment is giving students a feedback on their understanding of "big ideas" of what is sacred, and how an understanding of sacred and carbon footprint can promote a positive, active world awareness and citizenship.

References and Resources