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Faculty Associates

Mark Barrow
Mark Barrow (Steering Committee Member), Professor, Department of History

I work at the intersection of the history of biology, environmental history, and cultural history. In addition to teaching a senior seminar on the history of food in America, I often include food-related topics in my other courses. I have written two prizewinning books: A Passion for Birds: American Ornithology after Audubon (Princeton Univ. Press, 1998) and Nature’s Ghosts: Confronting Extinction from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Ecology (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2009). My current research project examines the cultural and environmental history of the American alligator.

John Boyer
John Boyer, Senior Instructor, Department of Geography

I’m a Senior Instructor in the Department of Geography, where I teach large online sections of World Regional Geography and Geography of Wine. I am interested in expanding course offerings and collaborative study abroad experiences that focus on viticulture, viniculture, wine culture, wine history, and specifically the food/wine concept of terroir. 

Thomas Bolles, Associate Extension Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension - Prince William Unit

Thomas Bolles, Associate Extension Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension - Prince William Unit
Thomas Bolles, Associate Extension Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension - Prince William Unit

I am an extension agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension. I have been with Extension since 2009. I have a BA in History and a MSED in agricultural and extension education. I have been overseas twice to work on capacity building in the agricultural sector. My interests include local food supply chains, value-added foods, food and social justice, diversity and inclusion, capacity building, the confluence of food and its impact on people’s lives, urban/suburban agriculture and rural development.

Photo of Danille Christensen
Renata Carneiro, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Food Science and Technology (she/her)

I am a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology. I am passionate about applying sensory & consumer science and food chemistry knowledge to support the development of high-quality foods. I previously worked in the food and pet food industries in my home country (Brazil), in the areas of quality assurance and innovation (R&D). Food has the power to connect people and I love to travel, taste, and learn about foods from all over the world. Website

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Danille Christensen, Associate Professor, Department of Religion and Culture (she/her)
I study food as a form of material culture and social performance that is embedded in talk and informed by embodied knowledge. Students in my classes often explore how foodways--including production, marketing, display, and consumption--are grounded in broader cultural narratives and social hierarchies. I’m finishing up a book called Freedom from Want: Home Canning in the American Imagination, which draws on archived documents and contemporary fieldwork to consider how and why home canning has been promoted in the United States over the last 150 years. 
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Maria Elisa Christie, Director, Women and Gender in International Development Center for International Research, Education and Development (CIRED) (she/her)

I primarily address gendered aspects of agricultural research-for-development projects. Drawing on feminist political ecology and ethnographic and participatory research methods, I use food and kitchenspace as a lens to explore issues as diverse as aflatoxins and food safety in Uganda and invasive weeds in Ethiopia. Focusing on food preparation began as a feminist strategy to recognize women’s knowledge and priorities in three communities in central Mexico, where preparing food for community celebrations is part of the fabric of everyday life. Website

Kira Dietz
Nicholas Copeland, Associate Professor of History (he/him)

I am a political anthropologist with expertise in Indigenous and peasant politics in Guatemala and Latin America and engaged research methodologies. I have studied how violence and development have shaped electoral politics in Mayan communities since the transition to democracy, grassroots movements for food sovereignty and agroecology, and how environmental defense movements use water science in struggles against extractive industries. I teach courses on food sovereignty and Indigenous politics.

Kira Dietz
Kira Dietz, Assistant Director, Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (she/her)

I manage projects and operations in Special Collections and University Archives, where I also work to acquire new material and improve physical and digital access to materials in all collecting areas. In addition, I am the point person for reference, instruction, and outreach for our collection of more than 6,500 volumes and 100 manuscript collections relating to food and drink history and culture. I also manage “The Food Timeline” web resource, donated to Virginia Tech in 2020.

Kay Edge
Kay Edge, Associate Professor, Graduate Program Chair, Architecture (she/her)

I have been teaching in the Virginia Tech Architecture graduate program since 2001. I am a licensed architect and have worked with firms in New York City and New Haven, Connecticut. I hold an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from the University of the South, a Masters of Architecture from Virginia Tech and a Masters of Environmental Design (history/theory) from Yale University. I've long been interested in the relationship between food and architecture; I'm thrilled to learn about this new program.

Bikrum Gill
Bikrum Gill, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Core Faculty in ASPECT (he/him)

My research is broadly located at the intersection of international political economy, political ecology, critical race studies, and theories of decolonization.  My current research projects include my role as a co-investigator on a SSHRC-funded multi-institutional, transnational collaboration titled "Four Stories about Food Sovereignty," which investigates the central role of Indigenous struggles around food and land rights in addressing the climate crisis. Website

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Nicolin Girmes-Grieco, Senior Instructor & Director of HNFE Foods Teaching Laboratories (she/her)

As a senior instructor with the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods & Exercise (HNFE) and director of the HNFE Foods Teaching Laboratories, I teach and develop undergraduate nutrition classes and practice-based laboratory courses in human health assessment and food preparation in the context of sustainable dietary patterns and disease prevention. I have served on departmental, college-, and university-level committees and am the faculty advisor of several campus-wide student organizations. In Fall 2023, I am part of teaching the first cohort of our “Salute! Food and Health in Switzerland” study abroad program at Virginia Tech’s Steger Center.

Saul Halfon
Saul Halfon (Steering Committee Member), Associate Professor, Department of Science, Technology, and Society

I work in the political sociology of science and technology, emphasizing food governance, controversies in nutrition, international politics of food and risk, and the politics of demography and population. Recent work focuses on both governance practices within the USDA and expert authority within public settings. I advise a wide range of graduate students, have served as the graduate director for STS, and teach courses in science and technology policy, food politics, and public engagement with science.

Mae Hey
Mae Hey, Assistant Professor, Sociology, American Indian Studies (she/her/Niin)

I hold a College of Natural Resources degree in human-Nature relationships and two graduate degrees in Curriculum and Instruction, my PhD research focusing on the confluence of Indigenous worldview/ knowledge and science education. My postdoctoral fellowship was directed at strengthening relationships and engagement with Indigenous populations. As an Assistant Professor, I continue to work with tribes on initiatives related to community viability through Land-centered pedagogy, including emergent Indigenous concerns of food sovereignty, food security, and the revitalization of traditional foodways. 

Mahmood Khan
Mahmood Khan, Professor & Director, Department of Hospitality & Tourism Management

I have my MS and Ph.D. in food science from Louisiana State University and serve as a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. I am currently directing a graduate program leading to a MS degree in Business Administration with specialization in Hospitality & Tourism Management. I am author of seven books mainly in the area of foodservice management. My career spans from teaching at Albright College, a liberal arts and science institution to research at the University of Illinois, Urban Champaign, all in foods, nutrition, and foodservice management.

Vivica Kraak
Vivica Kraak, PhD, MS, RDN, Assistant Professor of Food and Nutrition Policy, Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise (she/her)

I have 30 years of professional experience to evaluate strategies and stakeholders’ performance to create healthy and sustainable food environments for populations to prevent obesity and diet-related chronic diseases and address the Global Syndemic. My research strives to be relevant to inform policies for government, industry and civil society. Website

Mae Hey
Jake Lahne, Assistant Professor, Food Science & Technology (he/him)

I focus on sensory science in my work. I research the flavor profiles of fermented and distilled products, new methods for understanding sensory experiences, and the social and theoretical dimensions of food-sensory experience beyond reductive biopsychological explanations.

Derek Mueller
Derek Mueller, Associate Professor, Rhetoric and Writing, and Director of Composition, Department of English (he/him)

My teaching and research follows the consequential interplay among writing, rhetorics, and technologies. I regularly teach courses in visual rhetorics, composition theory, and research methods, and I have focused first-year writing courses on environmental justice, mapping & memory, and food deserts. My current project is an edited collection, Radiant Figures, which looks at the crossroads shared by visual rhetorics and writing program administration. Website

Kim Niewolny
Kim Niewolny, Associate Professor, Dept. of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education and Director, VT Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation (she/her)

My research, teaching, and outreach program centers on the role of power and equity in community education and development with scholarly interests in ontological politics, cultural studies, action research; participatory and cultural community development; critical pedagogy; and the political praxis of community food work. From these perspectives, my current intatitiaves focus on Appalachian community food security; the political economy of new farmer sustainability; storytelling for food justice; and the intersection of farmworkers, technology, and disability. I also direct the VT Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation, teach graduate and undergraduate courses, and provide leadership for the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition and Virginia AgrAbility Program. Website

H. Lester Schonberger
H. Lester Schonberger, Research Associate, Department of Food Science and Technology (he/him)

My research interests are at the intersection of food safety and food recovery, primarily how food handlers in food recovery organizations (e.g. food banks, food pantries, meal kitchens, etc.) can be equipped and empowered to safely handle food to ultimately protect the people they serve. I also support other research and extension projects with food producers, food handlers, and consumers to increase knowledge of food safety and inform behaviors. Website

Ann Steensland, Lead, Global Agricultural Productivity Initiative, CALS Global (she/her)
Ann Steensland, Lead, Global Agricultural Productivity Initiative, CALS Global (she/her)

I lead the Global Agricultural Productivity Initiative at VT CALS and author the GAP Report, an annual analysis of global progress toward productive sustainable food and agriculture systems. I have worked on agri-food policy in Washington, D.C., at the Global Harvest Initiative and the Alliance to End Hunger. I have an M.A. in African History from George Mason University and received the Lawrence Levine Prize for my thesis exploring the commercialization of agriculture in South Africa. Visit my website.

Jessica Taylor
Jessica Taylor, Director of Public History, Assistant Professor, Department of History (she/her)

I teach public history, Native History, and early US History to graduate and undergraduate students. My recent public work includes a COVID-19 Mutual Aid project with the Southern Foodways Alliance, a collaborative, classroom-based oral history project about food and health disparities at the Virginia-West Virginia border, and an ongoing project with commercial seafood fishermen in Eastern Virginia. Website

Courtney Thomas
Courtney Thomas, Collegiate Assistant Professor, Acting Director of Undergraduate Studies, and Academic Advisor in the Department of Political Science (she/her)

I have been working in food studies for fifteen years. I am the editor of the Food Studies Journal for the Common Ground Food Studies Knowledge Community. I serve on their Board and am their Research Network Chair. I have done research on the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the US food safety regulatory regime, food security, food labeling, and the intersections among food, political economy, and mass political violence. Website

Marcus Weaver-Hightower
Kristin Washco, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, Virginia Tech (she/her)

I am an Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture at Virginia Tech and a Ph.D Candidate in Architectural History + Theory at the ASAU, Carleton University, Canada. I received my Master's in Architectural History + Theory from McGill University and my professional degree in Architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. I am a Registered Architect and have practiced professionally across the United States and Canada. In 2021, I co-founded the design firm Metier Projects. I am also the co-coordinator of CR|PT|C (Carleton Research Practice of Teaching Collaborative). My research centers on the multisensory experience of architecture and methods of architectural representation. 

Marcus Weaver-Hightower
Marcus Weaver-Hightower, Professor and Program Leader of the Foundations of Education program, School of Education (he/him)

Among other topics, I research the politics of school meals in the United States and globally.  This work seeks to understand how conservative politics undermine the nutritional, academic, social, and environmental possibilities of what kids eat at school. My publications include Unpacking School Lunch: Understanding the Hidden Politics of School Food (2022) and the co-edited book School Food Politics: The Complex Ecologies of Hunger and Feeding in Schools Around the World (2011)—winner of a Critic's Choice Book Award from the American Educational Studies Association. Website

Donna Westfall-Rudd
Donna Westfall-Rudd, Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education (she/her)

My work is grounded in an agricultural education community of practice that includes secondary teachers, teacher educators, preservice students, extension staff, as well as graduate students, and teaching faculty in the college of agriculture and life sciences. My teaching and learning work emphasizes developing inclusive teaching practices to support and engage all learners, so they feel comfortable being their authentic selves as they learn.

Photo of Gordon Yee
Gordon Yee, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry (he/him)

Teaching Chemistry is my job, but food and cooking are my hobby and I use them to bring people together. Every couple of weeks or so, I work with students in the Honors Residential Commons to make soup for 30-50 students. I have also taught a course in the Honors college on the chemistry of cooking where we used the kitchens in Wallace Hall. Diego Troya and I have taught a course on veganism for Life-long Learning Institute. Website

Anna Zeide
Anna Zeide (Food Studies Program Director), Associate Professor, Department of History (she/her)

I study food as a way of understanding histories of environmental change, consumer behavior, technology, health, and justice. My first book, Canned: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry (Univ. of California Press, 2018), won a 2019 James Beard media award. I am also the author of US History in 15 Foods (Bloomsbury, 2023) and the co-editor of Acquired Tastes: Stories about the Origins of Modern Food (MIT Press, 2021). Website

Student Associates

Reed Byg
Reed Byg, PhD Candidate, Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT)

I completed my undergraduate education at Green Mountain College in 2016 and I received my MA in political science from Virginia Tech in 2020. My general research interests are in political ecology and political economy but, more specifically, I am interested in exploring the politics of food in relation to space and place, particularly in urban contexts. Outside of academia, I enjoy hiking, running, and climbing.

Linea Cutter
Linea Cutter, PhD Candidate, Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) (she/her)

I am a graduate instructor in the Department of Political Science. My research interests broadly encompass political theory, biopolitics, critical food and eating studies, international political economy, and global food regimes. I am currently working on my dissertation, which examines subject-food relationships through the analytical grid of neoliberal governmentality and biomedicalization.

Zachary Dowell, PhD Student BioBuild Fellow/Environmental Design and Planning/Dept. of Building Construction
Zachary Dowell, PhD Student BioBuild Fellow/Environmental Design and Planning/Dept. of Building Construction

I am currently a Ph.D. student and Biobuild Fellow at Virginia Tech where my research involves treatment of residential food waste at its point-of-source through anaerobic digestion. As far as industry experience, I've held a VA Class-A Contractor’s License since 2001 and have a background in sustainable home design/build and renewable energy design and installation. I also have more than a decade of consulting, college teaching, and workforce training experience. In my free time, I enjoy being in the garden and greenhouse with my family. Tinkering on the digester in my backyard where I turn my family's food waste into natural gas and fertilizer is another favorite pastime. Click here to view my website.

Jordan Fallon
Jordan Fallon, PhD Candidate, Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT)

Before beginning the PhD program, I completed my MA in Political Science at Virginia Tech. My research interests broadly involve studying the politics of food and cooking. More specifically, I am interested the normative dimensions of subjectivity and descriptive articulations of food and labor within contemporary culinary spaces, particularly restaurants. My current projects pursue this focus in the context of Euro-American culinary history and theory.   

Ke Hu
Ke Hu, PhD Candidate, Science, Technology and Society

Previously a tech journalist reporting assorted emerging food technologies happening in New York, I am now a PhD candidate in Science, Technology and Society Program. My research project currently focuses on how emerging food technologies, such as cultured meat and vertical farming, are incubated and travel across national borders. I see the connection of food studies and STS provides new avenues to talk about climate issues, mind/body dualism, and evolving international geopolitics.

June Jones
June Jones, PhD Candidate, Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT)

I am an instructor in the Department of Political Science and a lifelong member of the farming community. My family owns and operates Jones Family Farm in Harford County, Maryland. My research in environmental political theory and agrarian studies pertains to possibilities for a new agrarianism, repeasantization, and a sustainable and just agricultural future.  

Anonymous face

Anonymous face
Tuan Le, Graduate Student, Department of Food Science & Technology

I am a graduate student in the Department of Food Science and Technology. I have always been interested in how food in particular interacts with the world and more generally how science interacts with society. Although I am a student in natural science, I’m always looking for opportunities to be engaged in social science, as it was my original interest. I came to the United States in 2018 from Vietnam, and am only now learning about the field of Food Studies, which is of strong interest to me. 

Emma Ruby, Graduate Student, Master's in Public Administration, she/her
Emma Ruby, Graduate Student, Master's in Public Administration, she/her

I’m a student in the Master's in Public Administration program. Within the food system and public administration, I am interested in how we can leverage community partnerships for a more equitable food system. I previously served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Blue Ridge Area Food Bank in Harrisonburg, VA, where I completed a service year focused on child nutrition and community engagement. Currently, I work with Virginia Tech's Center for Economic and Community Engagement as the project coordinator.

Community Associates

Garrett Blaize
Garrett Blaize, Grants Manager at Appalachian Community Fund (he/they)

I am a community organizer, advocate, and movement capacity builder from Appalachian Virginia. My work has focused on building infrastructure to support the economy, ecology, culture, and health of Appalachian communities. I am deeply passionate about traditional food cultures. Click here to view my website.

Zack Burton, Advisor, Graduate School (he/him)

Photo of Zack Burton
Zack Burton, Advisor, Graduate School (he/him)

My role at Virginia Tech entails advising graduate students throughout the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the College of Science. In 2017, I earned my MA from Bowling Green State University, where I studied religion and the US consumer environment. At BGSU, I also curated exhibits and University Archives collections exploring sensory history and campus culture. Most of my scholarly and personal interests lie within the connected histories of fast food, bars, tourism, and the highway.

Jordan Laney
Jordan Laney, Instructor, Dept. of Religion and Culture / Independent Consultant (she/her)

My work centers around relationships between place and people. As an educator, writer and occasional farmhand in Central Appalachia I am particularly interested in intergenerational land use projects and conversations, small scale farming, political economy of regional agriculture, and food practices as a part of a larger vision for resilient local economies. I am currently involved in work involving CBD hemp in the coalfields and my food based writing can be found in Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Dinner Bell Magazine, and the Journal of Appalachian Studies. Website

Mindy Merrell
Isabelle Largen, Assistant Director for Food Access Initiatives; VT Engage: The Center for Leadership and Service Learning (she/her)

 I currently direct Virginia Tech's food access initiatives for students experiencing food insecurity, namely, The Market of Virginia Tech. I also facilitate the Campus Kitchen program, which diverts unserved food from campus dining facilities to food access locations around the New River Valley. I am a student in the Master of Public Health program and have a background in water quality and Appalachian water access. 

Mindy Merrell
Mindy Merrell, VT alum and (she/her)

I am a 1983 and 1985 graduate of Virginia Tech from the College of Human Resources. My Master's thesis examined American values according to Good Housekeeping magazine food ads. I went on to have a career in food communications/recipe development/marketing in Chicago and Nashville. I am a cookbook author and a champion (episode 251) of the show Chopped! I am researching the history of self-rising flour and cornmeal. I teach (pre-covid) Salad Brain classes that examine creativity and Biscuit and Cornbread labs. Website

Oumo Ndiaye, Postdoc, Department of Food Science and Technology (she/her)

Oumo Ndiaye | Food Studies | Virginia Tech
Oumo Ndiaye, Postdoc, Department of Food Science and Technology (she/her)

I hold a Food Engineering degree from Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique of Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar, Senegal and MS and PhD degrees in Food Science and Technology from Virginia Tech. My experience includes research on nutraceutical products used in African traditional medicine like hibiscus and teaching the Concepts of Food Product Development course. I am keenly interested in interdisciplinary research, value-added foods, the role of women in ground-up programs to enhance food security in my country as well as in implementing experiential learning approaches to help students better integrate and communicate Food Science knowledge and impact public health.

Former Program Associates

To view the list of former Food Studies Program associates, follow this link.