I teach experiential courses on food and environmental literature, conduct multidisciplinary community-engaged research, and speak widely on the local food and environmental movements.
"As a kid, I was convinced that there was some sort of spirit in the world. But the culture I lived in did its best to convince me otherwise."
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the power of embodied story, myth and ritual to shape lives and communities. I love creating magical worlds and immersive experiences in theatres, sacred spaces, classrooms, kitchens and gardens. This fascination began as a child, when I discovered the musical theatre and was smitten by the joyous scores, the vaudevillian comic antics, and especially (although I couldn't have articulated it then!) the way musicals used song and dance to create celebratory community on the stage and in the audience. Inspired, I studied drama at Yale University where I produced elaborate musical spectacles on the very same stage where Cole Porter had once performed. After graduation, I co-founded a theatre company, produced a site-specific musical staging of The Bacchae on the Boston Common, and gained valuable experience at the American Repertory Theater, the LA Festival, the Wooster Group and Performance Space 122, where I managed the P.S. 122 Field Trips, touring vaudeville-style performance art shows.
"I didn't know it then, but I was always trying to capture something that was missing: the feeling of a people living in the same story."
Eager to understand more deeply the ways in which stories function to shape my own culture, I earned a PhD in American Literature and Jewish Studies at Brandeis University where my research explored the tight relationship between the American Jewish experience and the development of the Broadway musical. Over the next decade, I published two award-winning books and became Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Toronto, teaching, writing, and thinking deeply about the intriguing sacred space that theatricality and performance holds not only for American Jews like myself but for all of American public life.
While I was busy building an academic career, the earth was getting sicker and the climate was sliding into chaos. Increasingly alarmed, I began to shift my attention. I became involved in the local food and farming movements in Ontario, helping to found Shoresh and Bela Farm and initiating conversations and action around environmental issues in my university, my synagogue, and the wider community. It was meaningful work, but like our North American lifestyles, it was unsustainable. I had a growing family, a demanding job, and an urgent need to “save the planet,” and my body began to give out. It took a major health crisis to help me see that, while I had become very skilled at analyzing stories about human communities, I had been utterly blind to the stories my culture had created about who we are in relation to the living earth. In pursuit of a “successful” life, I had bought into a story that demands depletion of our bodies as well as the body of the planet. It was time for a major shift.
"Alienation from a shared story is also what has separated mind, body, and earth in Western culture––the ability to live within an ongoing story, fully formed, and feel that connection.”
My mission now is to change that story. For myself, for my students, for all those who feel disconnected and helpless in the face of seemingly insurmountable environmental problems, and for the beautiful planet which sustains us.
Some of my projects include:
Writing about new cultural mythologies
Fostering immersive land-based and embodied learning experiences
Experimenting in cooperative agriculture, herbal knowledge, art and political advocacy
Designing new approaches to health, life writing, feminism, and environmentalism
Developing land-based Jewish spiritual practices
"As a child it was more literal. The flowers talked, the rocks talked. I would love to get back to that. That’s the journey I’m on: to hear the land speak with all of my senses and learn to respond."