Next year’s Reading in Common books, Where Am I Eating and Where Am I Wearing by Kelsey Timmerman, resonate with the numerous ongoing initiatives at Gustavus to raise consumer awareness. The books chronicle Timmerman’s investigation into the sourcing of his clothing and food and take the reader on a worldwide tour featuring garment, coffee, chocolate, banana, and lobster production.
Timmerman’s books focus on the people behind the products who provide him with his comfortable and convenient lifestyle. His goal is to educate and share the information he gathered on his journeys to find the source and impact of his consumer choices.
An excerpt from Where Am I Eating sums up his concern about the American lifestyle, the importance of making knowledgeable decisions, and the impact they have.
“Ultimately, our policies, our environmental practices, our appetite for cheaper, fresher food year round—how we eat—impacts the way they live,” Timmerman writes.
Director of Dining Services Steve Kjellgren ‘86 sees an opportunity to consider the connections between the two books and why they were both chosen.
“How do these two things go together? They’re both consumerism, and how aware are we of the choices we make on a daily basis,” Kjellgren said.
These themes bear a strong connection to Gustavus’s various initiatives to responsibly source food and clothing. The BookMark has signed the “No Sweat Shop” pledge and offers Alta Gracia clothing as a responsible alternative to big name vendors. Kjellgren hopes that the books will generate interest in the where and the why of purchasing decisions made by different areas of the College.
“It’s not only ‘where am I eating,’ but we further that conversation to include ‘why am I eating,’” Kjellgren said.
With an independent dining service, Kitchen Cabinet advisory board, and an increasing number of fair trade items offered in the BookMark, Kjellgren is enthusiastic about the book choices and how they will involve students in further conversations on these topics.
“I think we’re going to have more and more students ask the question, ‘Where does our food come from at Gustavus?’ I hope that we get some ideas from our students about things we’re not doing that we should be doing. Our best ideas come from questions students ask us,” Kjellgren said.
Director of the Academic Support Center and Fair Trade Activist Margo Druschel is excited about Timmerman’s visit to campus and how his youth will resonate with students.
“He’s really appealing and young-ish, so I think that college aged students can look at someone who is not much different than they are and realize that he just thought about this . . . I think he’ll be great to get young people thinking,” Druschel said.
Kjellgren sees similar possibility for the books to make an impact on the community because their topics are accessible and familiar.
“This approaches social justice in a different way than our other Reading in Common books. They’ve all addressed some socio-political, ethical question, but I think this is the first time we’ve found one that affects our everyday experience, and we have to make that choice right now,” Kjellgren said.
Both Kjellgren and Druschel look forward to programming opportunities next year to bring these ideas to campus. Inviting area farmers who supply the Dining Service and hosting a socially responsible fashion show by Mata Traders are two possibilities that are currently being considered. With the goal of educating and involving students in purchasing decisions that are already being made with these ethical sourcing considerations in mind, Druschel hopes that students are inspired to get involved in these campus conversations and forward future efforts.
“My hope is that in combination with efforts that are already going on here, he will advance the conversation, and we’ll continue to make incremental changes,” Druschel said.