Food for thought
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Jan Ellen Spiegel
The study of food has had a home in higher education for generations. Nutrition programmes are commonplace. Culinary schools were around long before Julia Child turned Le Cordon Bleu on its butter-sauced ear. Now colleges and universities have come to realise that the classic food disciplines simply will not do anymore. And so food studies was born.
This new academic field, taking shape in an expanding number of colleges and universities, coordinates the food-related instruction sprinkled throughout academia in recognition that food is not just relevant, but critical to dozens of disciplines. It's agriculture; it's business; it's health; it's the economy; it's the environment; it's international relations; it's war and peace.
Food studies is being embraced by students interested in new careers in food safety reform, local-food businesses and anti-obesity, equity and climate efforts. For Sarah Jacobson, the food studies programme at the University of New Hampshire, called EcoGastronomy, was a way to bring more relevance to her interests in nutrition and sustainable food systems.
"Most nutrition majors think about the food and not the system that's producing food," she says. "By bridging dietetics and sustainable food systems, I can help change the food system."
"People are working with food and working with agriculture in ways you never thought of before," she says. "It's not just the traditional jobs anymore."
The first food studies programmes began in the mid-1990s at New York University and Boston University. Now there is an array of programme and degree structures, based on different goals and what programmes are in place.
Schools also are tailoring programmes to their geographic areas and demographics. The University of Vermont, given its land-grant status, takes an agricultural angle. At the New School, which started a food studies programme in 2008, classes have urban bents ('Food and Migration,' 'Urban Agriculture') that accommodate three core areas: culture and communications; policy and politics; and nutrition, public health and environment. Andrew F Smith teaches contemporary food controversies at the New School—think additives, genetically modified food and one of the newest concerns, cloned food—as well as food history.
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