Just a Thought: Patrick Martin

Author: Liza Kowalik

Just a Thought: Patrick Martin

Professor Patrick Martin teaches two seminars in the College of Arts and Letters, “Local Ecologies” and “Marginal Voices.” His passion for both French culture and local communities has informed his work.

Your background is in French, yet both of the College Seminars you teach focus on place and the environment. How did you become interested in these topics?

Whenever I reflect on my own formation and sense of identity, I come quickly to the realization that I have always felt a strong connection to the natural world. I grew up in the coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania, which is one of the richest areas of the United States for the diversity of its flora and fauna. A lot of my childhood was spent roaming the hills and exploring the region’s streams and ponds. The possibility that this sense of connection might inform my teaching, however, began to emerge only about a dozen or so years ago, when I spent two years directing the university’s program of international study in Angers, France.

Because our son was then just a year old, my wife and I did not travel widely. Instead, we stayed close to home and explored local resources. One of the most significant of these was the regional market that took place each week just outside our apartment. There, we encountered a vibrant food culture: the maker of artisan cheeses, the woman who sold a variety of mushrooms harvested from nearby caves, the seller of poultry, the vendors of dozens of different kinds of strawberries, apples, lettuces and tomatoes, the man from Auvergne with his dried sausages. One of the greatest gifts of living abroad, I think, is the gift of altered routines: the chance to step back from our habits and to think consciously about the ways in which we connect with other people and with the world around us. In the course of our reflection, we realized with a new clarity how much we longed for a sense of relationship with the place in which we were living. And when we traveled, it was most often to the contiguous region of Brittany, where landscape, family, and religion seemed organically intertwined.

Towards the end of our time in France, my department contacted me to ask if I would be interested in organizing a section of the College Seminar, suggesting that it would offer me an opportunity to explore more broadly questions that had emerged in my language teaching and in my work on French and Francophone cultures. I was excited to think of developing courses that engaged with the issues of personal identity, cultural formation and environmental impact.

Is there a lot of overlapping material between these two subjects?

The only book that both of my seminars read is David Weale’s Chasing the Shore.  Otherwise, while the two seminars grow out of the same inspiration, they actually explore quite different material. The seminar Local Ecologies focuses on our sense of connection to the natural world.  It’s there that we develop a capacity for relationship with each other and with everything that exists: a capacity for wholeness. It deals with the frame of reference within which ethical decision-making takes place. In Marginal Voices, we think about the issue of marginality in a broad sense: the decentering of our lived experience and the cultivation of a spirit of openness to the other. It is, in general terms, about ethical formation.

What advice do you have for people who are trying to be more environmentally conscious?

I’m a little shy about giving advice to anyone, as I am very aware of just how much I myself need to alter my routines. But let me answer your question by saying that I think it’s important to stay local, to start with the immediate details of your lived experience and to make small changes in the hope and confidence that they will lead you and others to a healthier mode of relationship with the world around us.

Can you recommend any markets or restaurants in South Bend that cater to the locavore movement?

We’re very fortunate here in South Bend to have an excellent local farmers’ market that is open year-round. My family frequents the market, and we have developed bonds of friendship going back for decades. There are other resources like the Garden Patch Market and the Purple Porch that offer local producers the opportunity to sell their products at a reasonable price and that strengthen our community through the development of a food network.

To be honest, we don’t eat out a lot; food forms a vital part of the celebratory moments of our family life, but it tends to be more of a domestic pleasure. But when we do eat out, we tend to favor restaurants that reflect authentic food cultures and that have strong vegetarian offerings like Ciao’s or Ho Ping (where the traditional Chinese menu has marvelous vegetarian choices) or Sorin’s, which makes a concerted effort to offer a seasonal menu.

What is your favorite meal to serve in the home?

I really love to cook. One of my favorite things to do during the summer is to take advantage of the seasonal bounty by firing up the grill. Earlier in the semester, I can remember talking to our Local Ecologies class about the delight I take in the names and varieties of heirloom vegetables (the strawberry tomatoes, zebra eggplants and pimento peppers from Vaughn Wolf’s produce stand at the market), and in the grass-fed organic beef that we buy from an Amish farmer, Ernie Chupp. We take great pleasure in the taste of fresh, local produce, but there is also an experience of profound gratitude to the producers, to the animals and to the land itself.