Paul Sippil is the founder of Community Dining, a farm-to-table organization focused on promoting sustainable food practices via substantive relationship-building events. He recently joined the Emerging Professionals at City Farm Chicago to discuss the organization and the growing local sustainable food movement.
This post has been edited for clarity.
There is a growing movement in Chicago that aims to increase awareness about the importance of growing food locally and sustainably and support local growers that focus on sustainable sourcing. One can easily find opportunities to learn more about a wide range of topics such as gardening, cooking, nutrition and optimal farming practices.
Yet this movement seems limited because of the cost of this kind of food, particularly when food represents such a large part of our budget. Not seeing the direct connection between the source of our food and our health , many people simply can’t justify spending more on food because it is labeled “organic” or “all natural,” or paying $75 or more for a “farm-to-table” dinner.
Another challenge is defining the term “sustainable.” Does sourcing food from 50 miles away rather than 100 create a more sustainable environment? What about food production in smaller quantities from local farms versus mass production from larger farms? Is it a term that brings people together or creates more of a division? For people who just want to get by processed food saves them a lot of money, and if they have to buy fruits and vegetables that aren’t organic, so be it.
So how can the good food movement be more inclusive without compromising its principles, many of which have a solid basis? Those principles include things we would all benefit from, such as ending subsidies to large factory farms, treating animals more humanely — which affects the quality of what we eat (you are what you eat eats!) — and eliminating the practice of treating animals with hormones and antibiotics.
Lastly, how does food connect people?
In creating Community Dining, I’ve thought about all of these questions and how the shared meal can help stimulate substantive dialogue and strengthen our social bonds. I’ve also thought about the meaning of community and how it differs from a network. A network is where people build relationships solely as a means to more efficiently facilitate business transactions or expand a social group based on shared interests, rather than for the sake of sharing our whole selves and learning about all parts of people’s lives.
I believe we all have the natural capacity to care about people beyond what they can do for us and that a group grounded in fostering emotional nourishment feels much more like a community than a network. Community Dining presents a great opportunity to connect people in all of their human variety, in which people don’t have to bring their business cards or a network of contacts to feel valued. Sharing a meal can serve as the foundation to create an unlimited variety of communal gatherings involving all sorts of people and subjects like sports, pop culture, social and economic issues, and much more.