University of South Florida


Turning Passion into Edible Purpose; Religious Studies Instructor Promotes Food Sovereignty

Locally grown food holds a special meaning for Dell deChant, associate chair and master instructor in the USF Department of Religious Studies, whose life-long research has led him from studying religious culture to contemporary issues around food and community, specifically food sovereignty. Now, deChant and others in USF’s Urban Food Sovereignty Group are organizing a Tampa Bay Urban Food Sovereignty Summit on October 22 to encourage local communities to learn about native edible crops.

“People will come up to me and say I didn’t know we could eat those, I heard they were poisonous,” said deChant.

By working with the community, deChant hopes to help foster urban farming as a local solution to food waste and insecurity. Community engagement coincides with his research and teachings, which question the role of industrial food systems. deChant usually begins his courses by asking students if they know the origin of their food. That is the beginning of a semester-long dialog about food, independence, sustainability and ecology.

Religious studies students learn to grow food at USF's Botanical Garden's

Supermarket produce typically travels hundreds of miles. Food sovereignty projects work to rebuild direct relationships, which deChant calls “sacred,” between food and people.

“What we’re trying to do is get behind the problem.” said DeChant. “We need to be engaged.”

deChant teaches a course called “Agrarianism and the Sacred” where students get hands-on experience growing their own vegetables at the USF Botanical Gardens service-learning plots. deChant helps students identify the natural resources used in the garden and encourages sustainable use.

“I can’t think of another class like this,” said USF senior Laina Strickland. “To see professors make a practical difference in their own communities and invest some level of care in the community that they live in is really inspiring."

The event will be held on Oct. 22, 5:30-8 p.m. at the USF Gibbons Alumni Center.

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