8 Academic Programs Focused on Food Justice, Sustainability and Access Grow in Tow with Local Food Movement
March 13, 2016 | AJ Hughes
College and university academic programs focused on food justice, sustainability, and increased food access are on the rise, with an ever-growing number of students interested in such areas of academia. Ellen Messer, who teaches food policy courses at Boston University, confirms this increasing level of interest.
“It’s been a general trend since the organic and local food trend, and colleges are more aware of that,” she says.
Messer points out that food studies programs, many of which come with a bent toward sustainability and justice, often intersect with a wide range of other academic offerings.
She points to the importance of Diet for a Small Planet, a bestselling book written by author Frances Moore Lappé in 1971, which had a profound impact on how people and organizations (including colleges and universities) view food and its role in society. This work, according to Messer, continues in numerous college and university food studies programs.
Below is a sampling of several college and university food and agriculture programs across the country that focus on food justice, sustainability, and increased food access. A recent Los Angeles times article and a prior Seedstock listicle reference other similar programs.
The Berkeley Food Institute’s slogan is “Cultivating Diversity, Justice, Resilience, and Health.” According to its website, it works both locally and globally for increased agricultural sustainability and food access. It does this through civic engagement and research, aiming to collaborate with other organizations toward a positive transformation of food systems. The Institute hosts two research centers: the Center for Diversified Farming Systems and the Food Labor Research Center. The Institute worked with other departments at the University to establish an undergraduate minor in Food Systems.
New York University’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies offers undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees in Food Studies. Similar to other institutions of higher learning, New York University takes an interdisciplinary approach to food studies with extensive intersectionality. Doctoral level courses include Women and Food, Inequality and Food Systems, The Agro-Industrial Complex, Urban Agriculture, and Community-Supported Agriculture. Among its distinguished faculty is Marion Nestle, 2013 James Beard Leadership Award winner and author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.
Students at the University of Kentucky may major or minor in Sustainable Agriculture. In addition to global internship opportunities at farms, food and agriculture organizations, students may also serve apprenticeships with a certified-organic community-supported agriculture project. And in recognition of the fact that food and agriculture impact many other disciplines, Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies professor Steven Alvarez currently teaches a class titled “Taco Literacy: Public Advocacy and Mexican Food in the U.S. South.” His course covers the poultry industry’s impact on Mexican migration to the U.S. South, chef Rick Bayless, cooking pie with masa, and more.
Food Studies undergraduates at Syracuse University may choose from two concentrations: Food Politics and Governance, and Community Food Systems and Gastronomy. The Food Politics and Governance track comprises such topics as urban food systems, food movements, and cooperatives. Students in the Community Food Systems and Gastronomy Track also learn about urban food systems, as well as locavorism. Students in the Food Systems master’s program at Syracuse are exposed to food policy and food justice issues, including how food and agriculture intersect with social justice, sexuality and race.
Through the Food in Culture and Social Justice Program at Oregon State University, students can earn undergraduate certificates and graduate minors in this area of study. Courses include: Introduction to Local and Global Food Systems, Food Studies in a Social Justice Perspective, Agricultural and Food Policy Issues, and Sustainability for the Common Good. All students earn at least one credit via volunteer opportunities with food- and agriculture-related organizations. Students and faculty have participated in a variety of food security assessment programs.
Acclaimed chefs Julia Child and Jacqués Pepin founded Boston University’s Gastronomy program in 1991. It’s master’s program focuses on building skills in communication, problem-solving and critical thinking to tackle food policy challenges facing the world. Program graduates work in varied fields such as public policy, advocacy, entrepreneurship, writing and academia, according to the program’s website. Students learn how food relates to other areas of life, including natural science, social science, humanities and the arts.
Urban farming and sustainable agriculture is a big deal at Emory’s Turner Environmental Law Clinic. Its students and faculty worked with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to persuade the Food and Drug Administration to reissue regulations that govern the growing of produce. They also released a survey of 16 cities across the United States regarding their sustainable agriculture practices. Collaborating with the Atlanta Local Food Initiative and Georgia Organics, the Clinic assisted the City of Atlanta in passing zoning laws that are extremely friendly to urban agriculture. Also, the Clinic joined with Atlanta Farm-to-School to propose the serving up of more local foods at Atlanta Public Schools.
Ohio State University is one of several large Midwestern land-grant universities that offer extensive programs in conventional agriculture. Recognizing an increased interest in sustainability, its Agricultural Technical Institute offers an associate’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture. Students learn practical skills such as organic production, selling at farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture, composting, and more.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education has released a comprehensive list of sustainability-focused programs at colleges and universities—it can be found here.