Fire, Flora, and Food: Lessons from Abroad Enliven Dialogue Education

Winding our way through Bali last spring, we observed people throughout the island offer small, hand-woven baskets to their gods. These daily baskets were lovingly filled with sandalwood incense, fresh flowers, and a local food item such as fish, or other real food, makanan asli. The Bali baskets beautifully summarize Dialogue Education (DE) for me. Dialogue Education, in its many forms, is connecting to the heart, mind, community, spirit, the earth, and to ancestral eating.

Bali ritual baskets, freshly placed on the sidewalk with a morning blessing.

I describe my working self as a “Real Food-Ancestral Health” registered dietitian. I have been fortunate to draw from life-long experiences in travel and apply cultural gems to Dialogue Education. For example, the concept of taksu, the Balinese word for life magic, is alive in our DE classroom. Following the lead of tribal origins, we celebrate eating food close to the earth, sitting in a circle. A red tablecloth is crinkled into a figurative bonfire at the center of the group and gently blazes with locally harvested food treasures:  autumn squashes, pomegranates, pinecones, pine nuts, flowers, bay laurel leaves and nuts, persimmons, colorful fall leaves, acorns, stones, and shapely twigs. Is this our seasonal interpretation of the Bali basket? The fresh centerpiece kindles dialogue, including many food stories recalled from childhood. My sense is that our Balinese friends would feel kinship with such a welcoming atmosphere, especially with the laughter and open-hearted discussions that DE readily fosters.

As a nutrition educator and designer, I use printed material as a lively companion to class learnings. When materials are written into the DE curriculum, they instantly add flavor and life to the learning, and visually reinforce key nutrition concepts. In my nutrition education business, Nutrition Arts, I have created materials rich in food images. The photos appear mouth-wateringly edible to inspire creativity in eating. The publications, including the Ancestral Food Wheel Poster for Native communities, are naturalistic, warm, and abound with local and vintage artwork. The goal here is to graphically connect learners with real food learning, and inspire them towards the open exploration of novel food combinations in the group environment. My hope is that our Balinese friends would feel validated by the delicious food imagery.  I imagine that they would naturally continue real food, local eating in their own cultural space. Like the beautiful little baskets on Bali sidewalks and altars, effective printed materials are a useful reminder that learners can post in their personal space, where changes born in the DE classroom continue to unfold and weave into life, and are shared with others.

Cross-cultural, highly visual handouts and my eBook, Picture REAL Food, complement DE classes and events. Each handout is a class topic in itself. Picture REAL Food, Nature is Art (eating greens), and Oils and Cooking are pictured here.

Food-focused projects in our DE classrooms and events are many. They span from crafts such as the Intuition Wellness Cards and Mini Lunch Box Magnet, to group activities like the Hula Hoop Ring of Fats and the Spinning Food Wheel. The sounds, photos, and natural wood construction of the Food Wheel catalyze dialogue and enthusiasm. Who can resist a spin? A group of food images, affixed to the outer ring of the Wheel like numbers on a clock, are catered to fit the occasion and the audience– pre-contact food for classes with Pomo tribes, leafy green veggies at the local food co-op, pan-American hunter-gatherer food at the Ancestral Health Symposium, and sustainable regional food at the Real Goods Harvest Moon Festival. The goal of the Wheel- education, awareness, interaction, and fun- is great kindling for sharing stories and ideas; it provides a safe, open, supportive opportunity for learning. I imagine that our Balinese friends would enjoy spinning the Wheel with engagement and enthusiasm.



The Spinning Food Wheel is drawn from the Native American Medicine Wheel. It has many uses, and suits a variety of audiences, activities, and learning points. Bowls and baskets of real food items are often passed around among learners: locally foraged rosehips, seaweed, bay laurel nuts, blackberries, mushrooms, and salmon are among the many ancestral food items ready for hands-on exploration. (Darryl Edwards, “The Fitness Explorer”, is taking a spin.)

Returning to the Bali basket, it is used here as a real food, ancestral health metaphor with infinite possibilities according to geography, season, and learner needs. I would like to develop this idea more in the classroom as it fits the DE model and immediately connects learners with nature and real food. Yes, the Bali basket is a lovely memory from Bali. It is a powerful reminder as well that we are all connected to each other, inside and outside the DE classroom. Suksma!


Andrea is a Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner and the founder of Nutrition Arts, a multi-cultural nutrition education resource in Northern California.  You can read more about her work and experience here and download her newest e-book here.  


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