Art Is the Answer

Q & A with Jesse Oak Taylor

A few weeks ago, Jesse Oak Taylor, PhD, visited the Center and spoke about the challenges facing scientists—or anyone—when trying to communicate the urgencies and complexities of ecological crisis to the public.  Taylor is Visiting Assistant Professor of English, and American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow, at the University of Maryland College Park, as well as a co-author of Empowerment on an Unstable Planet: From Seeds of Human Energy to a Scale of Global Change (Oxford UP 2011).  His approach to this question as a non-scientist was refreshing, as were his insights into storytelling and the role of art. Here are some highlights from a subsequent conversation.

What can the arts bring to discourse about science, and to discourse about climate change?

Something like climate change is so heavily politicized that the moment you hear “ climate change”—the minute you hear any argument going in that direction—most of us, me included, immediately start making up our minds and listening for the key words about whatever someone is saying and deciding what side they are on. Read More >

Edible Education

Whenever anyone asks why I became a vegetarian, I simply tell them that, “I read a book in 5th grade that I shouldn’t have.” In 5th grade we were told to pick an independent reading book. I always jumped to the non-fiction bookshelf and it was there that I found not only a children’s biography of Rachel Carson, but also a book that persuaded me (and my best friend at the time) to become a vegetarian. I do not remember the title of the book, but I do remember creating images in my mind of pent up chickens unable to open their wings.

A recent article by Alice Waters in the Huffington Post made me question if the book I read really was a book I should have read, rather than one that I shouldn’t have. The article is part of a series of articles on food politics. In the article, Ms. Waters argues that school lunch reforms are missing an important component: “the opportunity to use food to teach values that are central to democracy,” referred to as “edible education.” She argues that edible education-which includes teaching children about where food comes from and how it is produced, giving children responsibilities in the school garden and kitchen, and preparing school lunches-into the school curriculum. The ultimate goal of this edible education is to teach values are that are “central to democracy.” Read More >