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Concept SU 2015

Summer University Concept


1) Summary

The Summer University on the Future of Food Sustainability will address controversial questions regarding future food security and its sustainability in quantitative and qualitative terms. It will alert students to the present world of widespread hunger and food insecurity and help them to plan for a needed transition to a sustainable food system with access to healthy food and clean water for everyone. The content of the Summer University is likewise relevant to nations of the Global South and to industrialized countries. Baccalaureate graduates and Bachelor students from different regions of the world will have ample opportunity for sharing their food security-related experiences from their different cultural perspectives. The exemplary case studies in Emmendingen will enable students to apply concepts and research methodologies in other settings.

2) Introduction

All humans need access to food. Max Weber recognized in this daily recurring basic need the motivation to work regularly, and thus the origin of all economic activities.[1] In technologically sophisticated societies, this reality may be obscured by complex economic production and distribution systems. Yet hunger persists in the 21st century, even in technologically advanced societies; and almost a billion people suffer because they do not have access to an adequate food supply and clean water. Due to mismanagement and climate change, these problems will become even more dramatic in particular in ecologically fragile and in very hot countries.

While food security may be ensured in quantitative terms in some areas, especially in the Global North, questions concerning the quality of food products remain ubiquitous. Recent food scandals such as the occurrence of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (“mad cow disease”) and food contamination causing widespread human illness testify to the challenge of reconsidering the way we feed ourselves from day by day. Health and ecological effects of the so-called “western diet”, wasteful handling of foodstuffs, and the co-existence of obesity and food insecurity in some of the same populations are all topics of public debate.

The search for alternatives has resulted in new forms of citizens’ initiatives. An example is “urban farming” that has gained a foothold in industrialized countries and contributes to nutritional quality in both industrialized and developing countries. Organic farming has increased over the last twenty years and became an economic factor especially in Germany, where even food discount stores offer organic product lines. Social movements and interest groups such as Slow Food, Foodwatch, food sovereignty and gleaners of all types (including “dumpster-divers”) are emerging and growing. Slow Food is a reaction to the rapid spread of the fast-food culture. It recognizes the central position of eating in human life and tries to restore its cultural dignity. The Slow Food movement also supports traditional and sustainable methods of farming. Foodwatch’s objective is to unmask practices of the food industry that are harmful to consumers and to fight for their rights accordingly. Food sovereignty is a growing movement of family farmers and other producers to regain control of their food system, based in recognition of human rights, localization, and democratic decision-making. The term was first used by La Vía Campesina, the world largest small farmers movement and was adopted by consumers and others around the globe. Gleaning is an ancient practice of retrieving grain or fruit from field that have been harvested; the idea has been repurposed in "dumpster-diving" in which people retrieve edible food from the dumpsters of supermarkets. This is one way that some people in industrialized countries are expressing opposition to the enormous quantities of food waste in the global food system, and has recently received attention due to documentaries and a court decision in Germany on "dumpster-divers".

Food production and consumption have become increasingly alienated in industrialized countries. Not only geographic distances between the locations of production and consumption increased in many cases, depicting challenges for endeavors to formulate policies for sustainable development, but also the conceptual distance between production and consumption has risen, with smaller proportions of the population actively engaged in food production. The lack of transparency concerning processes of food production (e.g. animal husbandry and slaughtering) contributes to this alienation, with laws in the US prohibiting filming inside animal production facilities. Growing enthusiasm for local food has been attributed to this alienation between consumers and food, although there are less positive implications as well. Farmers often encounter problems with neighbors who may like the idea of farming and like seeing open pastures, yet are not willing to tolerate slow farm machinery on roads or the smell of manure. And consumers may demand food safety measures (implemented at farmers’ expense) in a search for zero-risk food, while not being willing to provide support for farmers who find the cost of building new super-sanitary facilities prohibitive.

The provision of food is a basic task of every-day life and the original social-ecological system. Concepts for sustainable food systems draw on human ecological approaches with interdisciplinary contributions from social sciences, natural sciences, economics and cultural studies. Following the French sociologist Marcel Mauss, we can think of food systems as a “total social phenomenon”, meaning that our eating habits are in relation to almost all other areas of life. “In these total social phenomena, all kinds of institutions find simultaneous expression: religious, legal, moral, and economic. In addition, the phenomena have their aesthetic aspect.”[2]

Recognizing the position of eating habits within a particular socio-cultural setting also illuminates crucial aspects of the gender dimension of nutrition. Therefore, we will follow the agricultural value chain not only through economic (market) relations but also through social relations, which influence what is eaten and by whom. People generally eat meals that have been prepared and served, and not raw products; thus “meal security” is an important concept.[3]

3) Objectives

The proposed Summer Course will offer the participants transdisciplinary[4] skill-building and problem-solving practice, integrating theoretical concepts, a core knowledge base, and practical challenges of vital concern to human well-being. The Course will take place in Emmendingen, in collaboration with community partners. It will allow students to design a food system plan for the city that ensures food and meal security. Students will share in a community food assessment and visit community partners, then organize themselves into small groups to focus on topics of special interest, within the broad area of food system planning.

Students will learn practical skills and methodologies that can be applied in other settings. These include:

  • Systems analysis, or the analysis of the food system from production of inputs through waste management as a complex system, with trade-offs among, for example, economic efficiency, ecological integrity and building social capital.
  • Power analysis, or the identification of the kinds of power that different food system actors hold and the relative vulnerability of different actors.
  • Gender analysis, or the identification of prescribed gender responsibilities in the food system and how males and females are empowered or disempowered thereby.
  • Community food assessment, or identification of the major assets and barriers to community food systems that can ensure food security for all members without threatening environmental quality or wellbeing of the community.
  • Teamwork, or the ability to work together on a shared goal while appreciating and accommodating different backgrounds, skills and styles of communication.

In combination, these skills will allow students to identify the levers of change or transformation in a food system, whereby multiple goals can be achieved simultaneously. This is at the heart of multifunctionality and sustainability, which is widely understood to incorporate sociocultural, economic and environmental dimensions. This set of skills is increasingly important in Problem-Based Learning of all types.

Experienced faculty members from the organizing institutions will work with students to guide their learning, while respecting individual interests and creativity, and encouraging students to self-organize on topics of their choice. Students may elect to create a network to maintain exchanges after the class is over.

The Summer Course in the Future of Food Sustainability will be grounded in human ecology, a branch of Liberal Arts that focuses on the relationship between human societies and the natural environment. Human ecology, as it is taught in the organizing institutions, emphasizes the personal development of students by encouraging their self-initiative and self-learning and furthering their consciousness for self-responsible action regarding the environment. Human ecological approaches always include philosophical and ethical dimensions because the relationship between humans and the natural environment necessarily entails questions of the just distribution of environmental risks and amenities, just allocation of resources, and gender equality. Food security raises additional issues of the human right to food, nutrition and safe drinking water. The Summer Course will explore these philosophical, ethical, and rights-based dimensions along with technical questions of how to produce food and ensure widespread access to it.

4) Student Projects and Charrette

Students and faculty will discuss the potential projects early in the schedule. All of the six to seven co-operation partners will be visited in the first days. The students will than choose a partner to work with. They will organize themselves in groups and develop their projects. All of the projects will contribute to a food and meal security plan for the town of Emmendingen. The students will work at the enterprises or organizations as well as in our collective working space.

The project work is organized as a Charrette, a workshop open to the public. Every morning students and teachers will meet for planning and discussion. Important input in form of subject matters and methodology will be given, before the groups grab their bikes to ride to their partners and start their daily project work with the support of our faculty. In the evening we will all meet again for a sum up. Interim results will be shown and discussed publicly. Interested citizens, members of organizations and people, who were interviewed by student groups will be invited to attend and participate. On our last day the students will present the results of their projects. Group presentations may be in the form of an exhibit made up of posters and models or power point presentations accompanied by short oral explanations and ample time for discussion with the audience.


Possible Working Group Themes

The topics of nutrition, sustainability and food or meal security will be approached from at least four different perspectives: food production and processing, food marketing and trade, food consumption including meal preparation, and food waste and other losses. If a group wants to pursue another topic area, it may do so with after clearance with the teaching faculty. In each case, the group will analyze the current conditions in Emmendingen and propose how they can be improved to create greater sustainability in food and meal security.

a)       Food production: This groups will focus on organic as well as conservation agriculture and urban farming, and identify the contributions that each can make to food and meal security. Sustainability topics in this area will include trade-offs between production of biomass for energy and the potential of organic farming to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon in topsoil.

b)      Food marketing and trade: The students will identify the flow of food into and out of Emmendingen in the community food assessment. Students will consider the degree of food self-sufficiency that is desirable, and how trade relationships reflect power dynamics in the food system. The advantages and different marketing options for farmers will be considered, e.g., direct versus wholesale or retail markets.

c)       Meal cultures and food consumption: Groups will analyze the options available in Emmendingen for dining, and the practices used by different households and populations. This groups will consider questions of the nutritional adequacy of diets, changes in diet over time, sustainable consumption, and culturally determined meal preparation and serving customs, cultural values and social interaction in sharing and enjoying meals, including the gender order in private and public cooking.

d)      Food waste and other losses: Some students will assess where waste is being generated and how it is currently being recycled in Emmendingen (e.g., as compost or as an energy source). The goal of this group will be to develop recommendations for closing the nutrient loop between consumption and production, and minimizing waste in other food system activities.

In addition to the public Charrette and interaction with local people through interviews and visits, we will invite eminent authorities of human ecology for our evening lectures. These lectures will be designed to offer potential solutions to current food system problems and stimulate discussion.

5) Program Location


The Summer Course will be conducted in and near Emmendingen, a town near Freiburg im Breisgau in southern Germany. This region offers a variety of potential links to the course, including a long tradition of exceptionally high-quality production and processing of foodstuffs. It is a hotspot of the anthroposophically oriented Demeter Movement (biodynamic agriculture). The region’s population is known for its appreciation for high food quality; and not surprisingly, it hosts a Slow Food association.

Additional points of interest are the State Viniculture Institute in Freiburg, associated with the Faculty of Biology of the University of Freiburg, and the Agricultural School Hochburg in Emmendingen.[5] Emmendingen has several remnants of medieval gardens, and plans to restore them as historical sites. Originally these were farmers’ gardens outside the town that became integrated into a newly built quarter during the Baroque Period. Traditionally they were used not only for production of food and medicinals, but also for flowers. The industrial highlight of the town, the Wehrle-Werk AG, develops and builds equipment for energy and environmental technology. It is exploring the possibility of urban roof farming on its factory buildings.[6]

A successful interdisciplinary experiential learning process requires the cooperation of enterprises and people of the town and the region. The groups will conduct their project work in co-operation with approximately seven local enterprises and organizations. The partners include a dairy goat farm, horticulture, beekeeper, food marketer, organic shops, rural organizations and charity organizations.


[1] Max Weber: Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. 1922 online-version, II. Soziologische Grundkategorien des Wirtschaften, §3. Wirtschaftliche Orientierung. Here he talks about the development of rational economy out of the necessity to acquire food (http://www.textlog.de/7334.html).

[2] Marcel Mauss: The Gift. Cohen & West Ltd , London 1969, p. 1.

[3] Teherani-Krönner, Parto: Meals are the ties that bind. In: Meal Cultures in Europe. Changes and Exchanges, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 2011 (www.mealcultures.wordpress.com) and Teherani-Krönner, Parto / Hamburger, Brigitte: Mahlzeitenpolitik. Zur Kulturökologie von Ernährung und Gender, Oekom, München (2014)

[4] „…transdisciplinarity implies a fusion of disciplinary knowledge with the know-how of lay-people“ (Pohl, C. and Hirsch Hadorn, G. (2006). Gestaltungsprinzipien für die Transdisziplinäre Forschung. München: Oekom)

[5] See http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staatliches_Weinbauinstitut_Freiburg.

[6] See http://www.wehrle-werk.com/dynasite.cfm?dssid=4773.