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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. 

Letisha Brown
Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown (Steering Committee Member), Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology

My research focuses on race and racism, Black feminisms, sports, food studies, Black girlhoods, and culture. My work can be found in outlets such as the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, The South African Review of Sociology, the Palgrave Handbook of Feminism and Sport, Leisure and Physical Education as well as The Shadow League.  

Danille Christensen
Danille Christensen (Steering Committee Member), Assistant 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. 
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

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

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
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. My publications include 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. I am currently working on a manuscript entitled Mystery Meat: Understanding the Political Fights Over School Food. 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.

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 James Beard media award. I am now working on a history of food waste, writing a book on U.S. history through 15 foods, and editing an anthology on the making of modern food. 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.

Renata Carneiro
Renata Carneiro, PhD Candidate, Department of Food Science and Technology (she/her)

I am a doctoral candidate in Food Science and Technology affiliated with the Water INTERface IGEP. I work as research and teaching assistant and my dissertation research applies flavor chemistry, sensory evaluation, and consumer studies to support edamame breeding efforts to increase its domestic production. I currently serve as president of the VT Chapter of Phi Tau Sigma, the Honor Society of Food Science and Technology, and LAIGSA, the Latin American and Iberian Graduate Students Association at VT.

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.

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.  

Matthew Reiss
Matthew Reiss, Graduate Student, MS in Architecture - Industrial Design

One of my areas of research pertains to the use of microorganisms (fungi and bacteria) to produce delicious, nutrient-dense food by upcycling agricultural byproducts and farm seconds, the less-photogenic produce from local farms. I am also in the process of designing passive, low cost grow houses for the purpose of mushroom cultivation. I own and operate a commercial mushroom farm and vegetable ferment business just outside of Floyd, VA, where I cultivate a wide variety of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms and produce an assortment of fermented vegetable products such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and curtido. Website

Community Associates

Kas Church
Kas Church, Campus & Community Engagement Coordinator, VT Engage (she/her)

A member of the VT Engage team, I support food access initiatives on campus and in the NRV community through my work with the Campus Kitchen of Virginia Tech (CKVT) and The Market of Virginia Tech. I believe that access to foods that nourish us physically, emotionally, and socially is a basic human right. Website

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.

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Ruth Greene, First Cook, Turner Place, Dining Services (she/her)

I am a professional cook working in the dining halls here at Virginia Tech. By teaching high schoolers, college students, and adults alike kitchen skills and principles of service, I help them understand greater food issues. Outside of the kitchen, I am passionate about figuring how to practically solve issues around food policies.

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
Mindy Merrell, VT alum and kitchenpit.com (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