Webster professor discusses her journey with food in afterword of ‘Missouri Harvest’



Lori Diefenbacher, adjunct professor wrote about the evolution of the American dinner in her afterword. PHOTO BY MAX BOUVATTE

Lori Diefenbacher said she doesn’t do everything the “right way” and that “it’s not easy being green.” But she is taking steps.

“Sustainability isn’t about beating yourself up. It isn’t about saying what you don’t do and that you’re bad because you do this or that somebody else does more than you,” Diefenbacher said she tells her students. “It’s about taking small steps. Maybe each month deciding that you’re going to do one new thing that will make a better future.”

Diefenbacher wrote the afterword for the recently published book, “Missouri Harvest: A Guide to Growers and Producers in the Show-Me State.” The book, written by Maddie Earnest and Liz Fathman, explains why food is important. It discusses each food group and includes what farms produce that food.

The book also lists farmers markets where those items can be purchased and recipes.

The Webster University Press and Reedy Press co-published “Missouri Harvest.” When Webster University Press asked her to write the afterword, Diefenbacher, adjunct professor and coordinator of experiential learning in the School of Education, said she was pleased.

“It gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own journey,” Diefenbacher said.

Diefenbacher said they asked her because sustainability includes food issues.

“It’s (sustainability) interdisciplinary by nature and “Missouri Harvest” is just a piece of that,” Diefenbacher said.

Diefenbacher didn’t meet the authors of “Missouri Harvest” until she saw them at Webster’s first annual sustainability conference April 16. When she was asked to write the afterword for the book, she wasn’t given a specific topic.

“Stories are very powerful. I started thinking about my own journey with food and I’m old enough that I’ve watched many changes with food,” Diefenbacher said. “(In the afterword,) I decided to tell a little bit about my childhood and how I’ve seen things changing.”

When she was younger, Diefenbacher, now 58, said the food available in grocery stores was seasonal. In Missouri, strawberries were only available the end of May through June. Now, strawberries are available in the winter when they aren’t in-season in Missouri.

“We still have a sense of those (food) cycles but we can get things all year long now and we just import them from other places,” Diefenbacher said.

Diefenbacher remembers her family buying TV tables when she was about 10 years old. Her mom bought TV dinners on occasion and as a family, they would sit at their TV tables with the dinners and watch television.

“We didn’t do it (that routine) very long,” Diefenbacher said. “My mom would get involved with stuff and her values would come back into play and she would stop doing stuff like that (making TV dinners).”

“Missouri Harvest” sits on a display shelf in the Emerson Library. PHOTO BY MAX BOUVATTE

Growing up, Diefenbacher and her family visited the farm of family friends, the Wiegensteins, every summer. Faye Wiegenstein, a copywriter, and Diefenbacher’s mom Ruth Hyman, an artist, created advertisements for Sears. They became good friends. Wiegenstein and her family moved to the Ozarks. Hyman took her family to visit the farm for a week every summer.

“My mom was like ‘This is real food, this is food that you can eat. Can you taste it?’ She was over the top excited about this food,” Diefenbacher said. “I just had this sensation that somehow we were eating nonfood all year and that the only real food was on the farm. I became very connected to these people (Wiegensteins) and the idea of farming.”

These values from her childhood followed her into adulthood. Diefenbacher worked in a health food store and lived in a commune in her early twenties. In the commune, residents raised their own goats and made cheese from their milk. Then, she said, culture seemed to back away from those practices.

“The culture just took all of this environmental stuff and put it under a rock somewhere,” Diefenbacher said. “All the (baby) boomers started buying lots of stuff and getting cars and having huge houses. It never seemed right to me.”

Diefenbacher said she believes food has once again become more important to the younger generation. She said the School of Education is dedicated to sustainability and incorporates it into their education programs.

Diefenbacher said the farmers in “Missouri Harvest” have sustainable practices. She said they reflect the four principles for a sustainable future. The Natural Step, a nonprofit organization, lists those four principles as:

— Lessen our dependence on fossil fuels

— Eliminate dependence on man-made chemicals and compounds (Food contains many chemicals used by farmers.)

— Reduce the need to destroy nature and

— Ensure that all people have their basic needs (safe working conditions, food, fare wage, etc.)

“A sustainable farm meets all of those four (principles). It contributes to a sustainable future,” Diefenbacher said.

She said in the future, she expects to see books like “Missouri Harvest” for every region. Diefenbacher said she plans to use “Missouri Harvest” in her classes.


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