Food – how we eat it, how we get it, where we get it, and how it impacts our lives and our world – is increasingly dominating our discourse. There is a growing focus on eating locally and sustainably, a push for vegetarianism on sustainable as well as humanitarian grounds, and a greater understanding of how our changing climate affects what we eat. Food, and the many issues that surround it, is one of the defining topics of our time.
Higher ed has been active when it comes to using food as a gateway to sustainability. College dining halls are focusing more on locally-sourced, sustainably-raised produce and meat; universities are setting ambitious goals to reduce food waste; and higher ed is pioneering partnerships to increase awareness about how what we eat affects our earth.
Colleges are also starting to offer more interdisciplinary food studies programs in the forms of degrees, minors, and campus farms. The University of California schools have started the Global Food Initiative to explore food security, health, and sustainability. Traditional degrees in agriculture, nutrition, and the environment are focusing more on food, and students are increasingly planning food-related careers, whether in start-ups, government, or non-profit organizations.
Climate change has an enormous impact on the way we eat, and vice versa. Food is intertwined with issues of sustainability, health, and social equity. By leading on increasing food awareness, higher ed is leading the way on overcoming our climate challenge.
Before he ever knew they might be topics to study in college, food business and farming played an important part in Charlie James' life.
At Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, he sold home-made rice balls and sushi to classmates and earned about $40 a day for a college fund. Then he was deeply affected by visiting his grandmother's organic vegetable farm in Japan, learning about pesticide-free and locally-grown produce.
This fall, James took a step closer to his career goal of helping to run and innovate urban farms and rooftop gardens. A business major at UC Berkeley, he also enrolled in a newly established academic minor in food systems, a set of classes that include such topics as nutrition, the effect of climate change on agriculture, farm labor practices, food marketing, water resources and world hunger.
James is part of widening trend at American colleges and universities to channel students' foodie passions into classrooms, labs and campus gardens. An estimated 30 U.S. colleges and universities have formal interdisciplinary food studies programs that offer degrees or minors. New ones opened this fall at UC Berkeley, the University of the Pacific and Syracuse University. Hundreds of other more traditional degrees in agriculture, nutrition and the environment are attracting new food-focused interest.