Thursday, May 30, 2013
Food Studies at the University of Washington
A few weeks ago I highlighted some of the major contributions of students at the University of Washington toward the campaign against the proliferation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and instead for more ecologically sound practices governing our food system. Specifically I examined the work that the University of Washington Student Food Cooperative (UWSFC) is doing with their bulk buying club as well as the University of Washington Student Farm with their experiential learning farm sites. While student leadership is arguably one of the most important factors that drive more student engagement and education, it is also important to examine the role that the University and its subsidiary organizations play.
New Residential Food Community
The organization primarily responsible for student food and housing, UW Housing & Food Services (HFS), announced that beginning this upcoming academic year, they will host a residential community surrounding the topic of food, encompassing issues from the environmental impact of the food system all the way to the cultural facets surrounding the meals we sit down to every day (or sometimes not!). HFS already has functioning communities within the residence halls for more “academic” areas such as engineering, but this one will be different. Learning about the food system necessitates experience outside of the traditional academic setting; one must learn how to plant, grow, harvest, cure, prepare, cook, and serve the food they eat in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be a part of the food system in which we live. Because of this, the new food community will offer students exactly those opportunities: land to cultivate, kitchens to cook in, and rooms to sit down and enjoy their hard work communally.
The new food community will provide students that are entering into the University already with some understanding of the food system the opportunity to strengthen their beliefs, find others who share the same beliefs and can help them cultivate their passion (pun intended), as well as educate those who incidentally found their way into the community without any theoretical knowledge. College is a place to learn, and the lucky few who make it into the new food community are blessed with the opportunity to figure out first hand that much of the learning we do takes place outside of the classroom.
Proposed Interdisciplinary Food Minor
While problems within the food system have existed for a great amount of time, only until relatively recently has the issue come into the realm of academia, and as one of the largest academic institutions in the United States, the University of Washington does not have a great deal to offer those who want to study food systems. That is all going to change; instead of offering environmental studies students the opportunity to “concentrate” in the food system (i.e. take a few classes on it), the UW’s College of the Environment has proposed an interdisciplinary food minor that will “integrate with other programs and bring together the amazing depth and creativity of food and farm that we already have on campus.” Students who choose this minor will get the opportunity to learn about health issues, cultural and society issues, biological/ecological facets, and legal matters surround the food system from courses ranging from nutrition to psychology to economics.