Prestigious Watson Fellowship worth $30K will take Earlhamite across world for cultural food study
April 11, 2016
Mishel Mussali ’15 will travel the world to learn what food and land mean to people of different cultural and religious backgrounds and discover how societies and food systems would change if the spiritual roots of food and farming were reclaimed.
Her yearlong project, “Conversing with the spirit of the land,” was awarded $30,000 for a year of independent study traveling outside the United States. Mussali was one of 40 students nationwide whose projects were selected for the annual Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.
“Growing up in Mexico City, I realized early in my life the struggle for food justice in a country that had plenty of resources but great inequality,” she says. “I remember seeing peasants moving from their rural lands to the city and leaving behind their identities as the wise guardians of the earth to become homeless begging for a couple of coins in the streets.
“I realized that something was wrong with a system where we must work for our right to land and food. It was then when I found refuge in faith and understood that there was something that I had been stripped of — the knowledge of the land.”
Mussali is the 12th Earlhamite to earn a Watson Fellowship in the last 11 years, and continues the College’s tradition of producing well-prepared, post-graduate scholars.
Mussali says people today take food for granted.
“It is not uncommon to see people eating while staring at their cellphones or watching TV, as if food was something secondary in their lives,” she explains. “In my opinion, eating is not only the most important thing we have to do, but it is also an act that has deeply shaped our cultural beliefs.”
Mussali says that during the shift that food systems have undergone in the last century, humans have forgotten the embodied knowledge that their ancestors experienced in relation to their land and ecosystems.
“In our modern society, our bodies have been desensitized from our landscape; as the industry takes over the land to produce food in massive amounts using machines and poison, we as humans are losing the most essential knowledge of mankind: to know how to feed ourselves and to be one with our ecosystems,” she says. “My Watson project is precisely the quest for this knowledge: knowledge that many religious traditions have safeguarded and that intentional communities have reclaimed concerning the sacred understanding of the world that existed since the beginning of mankind until the 17th century when science overthrew spirituality.”
Her research will span eight countries.
In Peru, she will work with Quechuan communities to understand how Andean cosmology shapes people’s relationship with Pachamama, the Earth goddess. In Senegal, she will volunteer in a Sufi ecovillage to explore the Sufi view on environment and communal living. In Australia, she will explore the aboriginal knowledge on land and the development of permaculture. In New Zealand, she will study biodynamic farming, which is a method of agriculture that emerged from the spiritual movement of anthroposophy. In India, she plans to explore the Hinduism view on ecology and the emergent movement of eco-feminism. In Japan she will study the natural way of farming which is closely tied to Japanese Zen Buddhism. In Jordan, she plans to visit during Ramadan to explore the relationship between fasting and spiritual development. Finally, in Italy she will study the slow food movement.
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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."
Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and firstname.lastname@example.org.