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Road with trees on both sides
simple living for a sustainable future  
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discussion circles | what they discuss

menu for the future (mf)

Food is at the core of this discussion guide developed and last revised by the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) in 2009. Serving an eclectic mix of sources, this 7-course banquet will enable you to:

  • explore food systems and their impacts on culture, society and ecological systems. 
  • gain insight into agricultural and individual practices that promote personal and ecological well-being. 
  • consider your role in creating or supporting sustainable food systems.

Participants engage in deep conversations for 7 sessions:

1. What’s Eating America: Given the array of food choices and advice, eating in modern industrial society can be wrought with confusion, contradictions and anxiety.  Session One considers the effects of modern industrial eating habits on culture, society and ecological systems. Excerpts and Readings: “Organic, Local, and Everything Else” by Zoë Bradbury ~ “Navigating the Catch of the Day” by Daniel Duane ~  “The Anxiety of Eating” by Michael Pollan ~  “Sunday Dinner” by R.W. Apple Jr. ~  “Inheritance” by Sue Browning ~  “Gathering Indigo” by Aleria Jensen ~  “Appetite” by Maxine Kumin ~ “The Pleasures of Eating” by Wendell Berry

2. Anonymous Food. Session Two traces the historical shift from family farms to industrial agriculture to present day questions surrounding GMOs and industrial organics. The session examines the ecological and economic impacts that have accompanied the changes in how we grow and prepare food. Excerpts and Readings: Food Awareness Exercise ~  Excerpt from “On Trial: Industrial Agriculture” by James E. Horne and Maura McDermott ~  Food Counts compiled by Lena Rotenberg  ~  “Your Food Doesn’t Come From the Store” by Tom Philpott ~  “Irrigation” by Ling Li ~  “The SUV in the Pantry” by Thomas Starrs ~  “What’s Happening to the Bees?” by Moises Velasquez- Manoff ~  “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler” by Mark Bittman ~  “The Price of Life” by Steven Hopp ~  “Mean or Green?” by Liza Featherstone ~  “Paying the Price of Low Prices” by Steven L. Hopp ~   Big Organic, Inc.” ~ “The Potato” by Michael Pollan

3. Farming for the Future. Session Three explores emerging food system alternatives, highlighting sustainable growing practices and the benefits of small farms and urban food production.  The session considers how individuals can make choices that lead to a more sustainable food supply. Excerpts and Readings: “Can Organics Save the Family Farm?” by Eliot Coleman ~  Excerpt from Deep Economy by Bill McKibben ~  “Lawn to Farm” by Wylie Harris ~  “High Priest of the Pasture” by Todd S. Purdum ~  What’s Permaculture” by Toby Hemenway ~  “Why Don’t We Have Gardens Like This?” by Jennifer Cockrall-King ~  “Making Food Deserts Bloom” by Brian Halweil ~  “Cultivating the Urban Scene” by Fred Pearce and Orjan Furubjelke ~   “Look Mommy, There’s Our Farmer” by Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé

4. You Are What You Eat. Session Four explores food systems from a human health perspective.  The session considers the influences that shape our choices and food policies from the fields to Capitol Hill, and the implications for our health and well-being. Excerpts and Readings: “Additives in Your Kitchen Exercise” ~  “Unhappy Meal” by Marco Visscher ~  “Meet Free-Range Eggs” by Cheryl Long and Tabitha Alterman ~  “First, Do No Harm” ~  “The Illusion of Safe and Clean” by Anna Lappé and Bryant Terry ~  “Pesticide Protection” ~  “Five Easy Ways to Go Organic” by Tara Parker-Pope ~  “What’s in Your Milk?” ~  “Food Without Thought” by Heather Schoonover and Mark Muller ~  “Making Informed Food Choices” by Marion Nestle

5. Towards a Just Food System. The readings in Session Five examine issues of hunger, equity, and Fair Trade.  The session considers the role that governments, communities and individuals can play in addressing these issues to create a more just food system. Excerpts and Readings: “Creating Scarcity from Plenty” by Frances Moore  Lappé and Anna Lappé ~ “The Blind Leading the Blind” by Steven L. Hopp ~  “Too Much and Too Little, Here and There” ~  “Beautiful Horizon” by Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé ~  “Growing Resistance” by Alison Hope Alkon ~  “Local Food Policy Councils” by Rosemarie Cordello ~  “Bananas” by Ed Hamer ~ “Trading Fair and Square” by Steven Hopp ~ “Breadbasket of Democracy” by Ted Nace ~ “The Value of Diversity” by James E. Horne and Maura McDermott

6. Choices for Change. Individuals and communities are discovering the benefits of choosing local, seasonal, and sustainably grown and produced foods.  Session Six offers inspiration and practical advice in taking steps to create more sustainable food systems. Excerpts and Readings: “When Eating Local Gets Personal” by Brian Halweil ~ “Thirteen Things You Can Do to Support a Sustainable Food System” ~ “Local or Organic? A False Choice” by Samuel Fromartz ~  “Regional Cuisine and Sustainable Community” by Greg Higgins ~ “Slow Eating” by Jennifer Allen-Keilty ~ “Tangerine Meditation” by Thich Nhat Hanh ~  “A Grand Experiment” by Bill McKibben ~  “Returning Stories to the Modern Kitchen” by Ann Vileisis ~  “Seed Banking” by Adrienne Shelton ~ Excerpt from “Small Wonder” by Barbara Kingsolver

7. Wrap-Up. This last meeting may happen at a different place and time, and is often a potluck meal. Your group will start by evaluating the circle experience. Then, you'll decide what you wish to do next (together or separately). You will also learn of many ways to stay involved in our wider community of like-minded people. If your group is so inclined, the wrap-up is also a great time to plan a community project together.


see our monthly announcement or get in touch with your neighborhood's volunteer point of contact to find out about circles who are about to discuss this guide. Or, order a guide and start your own.

Cover of Menu for the Future guide

local opinions about this guide

mf 2-sided description (PDF, 115 KB), with reading list

mf flyer to advertise an intro meeting: Editable (in Word) or fill out by hand, in B/W (PDF 133 KB) or in color (PDF 334 KB)

mf evaluation form (PDF, 46 KB) - If you're sharing or re-using a guide

mf circle schedule PDF, 61 KB | MS Word, 64 KB

discuss these issues in our foodpassion yahoogroup

videos about food issues discussed in this guide

follow-up activities brainstormed by Lore Rosenthal after her participation in this circle (PDF, 10 KB)

"Reducing your kitchen 'cookprint'" Article in the Baltimore Sun interviewing Lore Rosenthal (PDF, 31 KB)

Introducer / mentor sampler MF 2009 (PDF, 734 KB)