As I sat down to write my final Kenan Insider blog post, I reread the 29 weekly posts from the past year. I was reminded of how diverse my year has been. The Kenan Insider has given me a way to document my journey through the year and the process of connecting my experiences back to ethics and Kenan’s mission. Over the past year, I tried to emulate a sponge soaking up information. After many talks, however, I was left with more questions than I had come with and few answers. Writing for the blog helped me work through this uncertainty.
In my time as the Stephen and Janet Bear Postgraduate Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics this year, I have had the opportunity to explore the intersection of food, culture, and ethics. The position allowed me to draw on past experiences and study new challenges. I have worked on two farms that are environments where ethics guides their missions: the Ohio City Farm, an organization that works with resettled refugees, and the Duke Campus Farm, which, like Kenan, facilitates interdisciplinary ways of approaching learning. The time I spent on these farms unintentionally foregrounded the events I planned at Kenan. Mentors from both farms were able to lend me their expertise to bring in speakers about southern hospitality and food and understand how farming can be utilized as a form of empowerment.
As I began the position last summer, I was adjusting not only to how to deal with the sweltering heat but also adjusting to Duke without the support of the majority of my recent undergraduate peers. No longer required to attend class, I was released from the pressure to take copious notes, to write a paper, or to be tested on the subject matter. I felt like I was able to pursue my own interests and learn for learning’s sake. I spent my first month at Kenan researching everything there was to know about foods and ethics. Some of the topics I had been exposed to through undergraduate classes; others I discovered as I took new paths on the research trail. As part of my research, I met with the Duke Farm staff and academics at Duke and joined the Duke food working group to gain a scholar’s perspective. I also examined different government programs and national, regional, and municipal food and water issues (and their connections to human rights), in addition to what corporations were doing to tackle these same issues. The quantity of information was overwhelming. However, with the help of others, I was able to continually refine and focus in on more chewable sized topics.
My goal was to discover ways to communicate through food themes the ethical choices students make each day as they choose what to eat on campus, to find potential speakers to bring new perspectives to campus, and to design programming that would get engage the Duke community in a rich dialogue not yet taking place on such a crucial topic. In turning this research into programming proposals for the year, I learned how difficult it is to zero in on a more finite topic and how to work within resource constraints. As I began to plan and implement the programs, including the annual film series and a series of events that included diverse panels and an interactive refugee-cooking workshop, I learned how to think through these topics and how to engage others in doing likewise. In the process, I became a more ethically intelligent person—one with tangible skills making things happen.
One of the most memorable things I did as a Bear Postgraduate Fellow was the Free Food Challenge. Many of my friends thought it was a joke when they heard that I was eating free food for an entire month, a manifestation of my natural extreme frugality. Despite the initial chuckles about the project and questions about the logistics of “surviving” for a month on the free food offered at academic events at Duke, my friends eventually were impressed by the purpose of the project and framework of rules I set for myself. The rule that was the least difficult was to engage with audience members and speakers — I needed to discuss the challenge with one or more participants, and also explore the topic that was being presented at the event. Critically thinking about how the unrelated talks I was attending each day connected to one another was a much harder rule to follow, but helped me to hone my critical thinking skills.
This year has given me the opportunity to explore what it means to see ethics in every aspect of living. I have taken the mission of Kenan to heart, and it has shaped the way I think. Each of the aspects of my position, be it research and program planning, writing, or helping students run the Ethics Couch, has contributed to my development as an adult and my decision making about the next paths on which I will venture. Right now, my next big step is my move to Dublin, Ireland in September. Although I have no set job plans, I have some leads related to food and ethics. Despite the uncertainty of my next move, I am certain that the experiences I have gained from Kenan over the past five years will allow me to adapt to anything Ireland (and life) has to throw at me.