Think Like a Martian over Dinner on Mars: Students Imagine a Hopeful Vision for the Future of Food

At UFV I strive to increase learning opportunities for students—especially those related to food security, sustainable agriculture, and human rights. That’s why I was so delighted to dive into the thought experiment put forward in the book Dinner on Mars (2022); co-authors Lenore Newman and Evan Fraser bring all three of these focal points together in a triple threat, making it the perfect foundation for involving students to imagine the future of food. I issued invitations to do so to every young person I worked with during the Winter 2023 semester.

In the Dig for Your Rights! program pilots I was supervising, I invited Kindergarten children in an Abbotsford elementary school to draw pictures of how they imagined dinner on Mars. Grade Five through Seven students participating in the Chilliwack Young Authors’ Conference had the opportunity to enter a contest I developed for them: tell a story about how to make sure you could get your favourite dinner if you moved to Mars—but without causing harm to people, animals, or the environment. High school students in the W. J. Mouat Extended Day Arts program, as well as UFV students in the Visual Arts program, were invited to illustrate stories that my own students had adapted from Dinner on Mars.

In the classes I was teaching, my creative nonfiction students in English 215 worked in small groups, each developing one chapter of written text for a graphic novel adapted from the book, featuring Newman as a superhero with Fraser as her sidekick. My children’s literature students in English 315 worked in small groups to create the written text of a picture book adapted from the Dinner on Mars chapter their group had been assigned.

Examples of the results were displayed at The Reach Gallery in my Dig for Your Rights! and Food Museum + Challenge exhibition from October 14th through November 18th, 2023.

These invitations encompass so much more than merely a fun thought experiment. They offer a way to think flexibly about the future of food, as well as an explanation for why we need to do so. Who knows what kinds of helpful solutions our youngest, most creative thinkers might come up with? And what if they could be put to good use improving our own food security in sustainable ways?

After all, much of the agricultural technology that Newman and Fraser describe in their book about what might be involved with feeding a human colony on Mars is already in development for real, right here on earth. We’re moving in the right direction, and that’s important because, “this food revolution will have the biggest impact [on Earth]. Many of the tools and technologies described in this book, and designed to sustain the hypothetical Martian community, should immediately find their way into our economy and become incorporated into farming and food systems here on Earth” (Dinner on Mars 201).

This is the message I’m sharing with children through the Dig for Your Rights! program, since they will soon comprise the voting public and influence—perhaps even develop—the “public policy to ensure there’s a fair price put on things such as biodiversity, climate change, human labor, and animal welfare” that Newman and Fraser describe as fundamental to the coming agricultural revolution (206).

We can do this, and when we do, we’ll only eat our dinner on Mars if we want to.

Check out Dinner on Mars yourself to find inspiration for your own future of food vision.

While you’re at it, check out my Dig for Your Rights! program to find inspiration for kids participating their local food system.

Michelle Superle’s favourite picture books about farming are The New Baby Calf, Right this Very Minute, and Zora’s Zucchini. Farmers are her heroes.

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