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Webinar Panel 3: How Do Other Food Studies Programs Work?

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This was the third panel in "Learning from Experience: The Food Studies Program Directors Project," hosted by the Virginia Tech Food Studies Program, with the support of a Humanities Connections grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)  It took place on April 1, 2022, and featured Krishnendu Ray (NYU), Stephen Wooten (University of Oregon), and Tony VanWinkle (Guilford College). SEE DISCUSSION BELOW


Krishnendu Ray, Professor, Nutrition and Food Studies, New York University

Krishnendu Ray | Learning from Experience: The Food Studies Program Directors Project
Krishnendu Ray, Professor, Nutrition and Food Studies, New York University

Stephen Wooten, Associate Professor, Director of Food Studies, University of Oregon

Stephen Wooten | Learning from Experience: The Food Studies Program Directors Project
Stephen Wooten, Associate Professor, Director of Food Studies, University of Oregon

Tony VanWinkle, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Food Systems, Guilford College (formerly of Sterling College)

Tony VanWinkle |  Learning from Experience: The Food Studies Program Directors Project
Tony VanWinkle, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Food Systems, Guilford College (formerly of Sterling College)


I have been in the department since 2005. I was the Chair from 2012-2021.

Four sources of NYU Food Studies; three acknowledged and one less acknowledged. This is a critical institutionalist view of our development (not a marketing one). 

A. Nutrition/Public Health: emergence of obesity as a perceived social problem in high-income countries 

Synergies of timing and location: NYU Food Studies developed in a Department of Nutrition, under the direction of a Public Health Nutritionist Marion Nestle (1996), by first paying attention to food in the body physiologically, then incrementally widening circles of inquiry to the social world of eating, cooking, and provisioning; first in consumption, slowly in distribution and production.

B. Rural Sociology: ASFS + AFHVS: Critique of agroindustrial development + Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust

Sustainability – ecological + sociological critique (health of communities/concentration/ power)

A second source of NYU Food Studies was the emerging environmental critique of the agro-industrial food system from Silent Spring (1962) to The Diet for a Small Planet (1971). The import of these perspectives were developed via the intermediation of organizations such as ASFS/AFHVS/Oldways

C. Consumer Culture/Urban Foodie Cultures/Upscale Restaurants/Celebrity Chefs/Hospitality

Other disciplines in having paid attention to agricultural production and distribution (economics and agricultural science) and individual consumption (psychology, nutrition and marketing) left room for the theorization of the social. Which occupied the space of what exceeded the reach of those disciplines, such as, the aspect of food consumption that is not determined by conscious individual will, but shaped by collective action, unconscious habits, and choices framed by social structure such as class and gender. Theorists were also turning away from the “prevailing condescension” towards consumer culture from about the 1980s.

Media attention; Food Sections of NYT (Marian Burros June 19, 1996 = A New View on

Training Food Experts

Kitchen Confidential (2000) and Iron Chef Japan (Food Network 1994) transformed the public culture of thinking and playing with food.

NYU Food Studies is linked to its location in one of the largest media and consumer markets in the world with innovative city policies. Our success and our challenges are linked to our location in NYC which reflects both affluence and race/class inequalities, largest school lunch program, important green market, urban farming and waste-disposal  initiatives, thriving food-related start-ups, and one of the largest urban healthcare systems. 

Other than Nutritionists the first people to be hired at NYU Food Studies were Amy Bentley, an American historian and Jennifer Berg with training and experience in Hospitality Management at Cornell University. So the first domains of expansion were History + Hospitality. The next circle of expanding knowledge was when an Applied Economist Carolyn Dimitri and a Policy Analyst Beth Weitzman joined the full-time, in-house, faculty, to deepen attention to Systems + Policy/Advocacy. In the last round, so far, the domain was expanded to include faculty working inter-nationally on issues of globalization, immigration, and circulation of cultural practices transnationally. Nominally including Sociology + Design Thinking by way of Krishnendu Ray and Fabio Parasecoli

In addition the program depends on two dozen part-time faculty and full-time faculty in other departments such as Environmental Studies, Performance Studies, Marketing, Business, Wine Studies, Waste, and an extensive experience-based international travel program

D. Home Economics often renamed as consumer/family studies

The decoupling of food from medicine, and wellness from illness, as analytically separate realms – due to the working of the profit and prestige motives associated with what is often called professionalization of a field – led to the bifurcation of science-based biomedicine and common sense based dietetic advice. That divergence has not healed yet, but a science-based dietetics slowly emerged along with Home Economics between the 1880s and 1940s, aided in the United States by funding from the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Morrill Act of 1862 had funded Land Grant Universities with the responsibility to foster agricultural development. Ellen Richards became one of the first female research professors to lead a newly conceived department of Home Economics at Cornell University in 1909. She added practice homes to university laboratories early in the 1910s to train young women in the science of running households. This was an optimistic era which assumed every domain of human life could eventually be mastered by a science relevant to it. Home Economics, Dietetics, and Nutrition were new and rare domains of science where women dominated. That would in itself lead to its ghettoization and marginalization as men avoided the field and women learned to circumvent its reach as new waves of feminism showed them a path away from the confinements of the home and the kitchen.

Sterling College offers undergraduates a BA in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SAFS). The degree program at Sterling is intimately linked to the college farm, which has been part of the institution since its founding in the 1950s. The farm serves as a major resource for the hands-on, experiential nature of Sterling’s program. Students might learn about the history and culture of small grain agriculture in the classroom, for example, while subsequently engaging in harvesting, threshing, milling, and baking with wheat or barley grown on the college farm. This embodied, sensory education is a hallmark of Sterling’s program.    

Similarly, Sterling is one of nine federally designated work colleges, which means that all residential students are required to work under variable annual contracts, with that earnings going directly toward tuition remission. The farm and the kitchen are the two largest “employers” of students in the work program. Students in the work program go through progressions of responsibility (from entry level to management level positions) that allow them to accumulate this adjacent body of experience.

The SAFS degree is Sterling’s largest degree program by number of declared majors and graduates. Indeed, many characterize the college as a “farm school,” due to the centrality of the farm to the college’s campus and identity. This identity is further grounded in the college’s location in the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) of Vermont. The NEK is overwhelmingly rural, and has been an unlikely epicenter for local movement activity since the back to the land era of the 1960s and 70s. This history creates a great number of off-campus opportunities as well, whether through internships, field trip experiences, or in some cases, direct employment. Students also have opportunities to learn at two remote program sites—The Wendell Berry Farming Program in Port Royal, Kentucky, and The Farm Between, in Jeffersonville, Vermont.   

The faculty and staff affiliated with the SAFS degree include natural, agricultural, and social scientists, adjacent faculty in the environmental humanities, as well as the farm and kitchen staff. All of these elements are coordinated through the umbrella of the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems (RFC).

Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems (RFC)

Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems (RFC) Chart
Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems (RFC)

Our interdisciplinary program was inspired and fueled by an international conference on Food Sovereignty held at the UO Law School in 2011. On the heels of the conference a working group comprised of faculty, staff and students worked to create a new academic program on campus. We started in 2013 with a Graduate Specialization that could be added to any graduate degree and added a Minor for undergraduates in 2016. Both curricular enhancements were welcomed by students and are currently well established and enrolled. I am the founding Director of the program. More details can be found on our program website:

One of only a handful of university-based academic food studies programs in the country, the UO Food Studies Program is set apart by its broad interdisciplinary approach that spans the social sciences, the humanities, and the natural sciences. Founded in 2013, the Food Studies Program aims to foster the kind of in-depth research and analysis that will establish our campus as a leading player in the developing field of food studies, making the UO a center for intellectual and policy work on matters of increasing local and global significance.

The idea for the UO Food Studies Program came about in 2011 when, following an amazingly powerful Food Justice Conference at the University of Oregon’s Wayne Morse Center, more than a dozen faculty and graduate students met to discuss strategies for harnessing the momentum on our campus around food issues.  It was quickly acknowledged that many of the existing food studies programs in the US focus on the fields of gastronomy, agriculture, and nutrition, while relatively few have the kind of breath and depth of expertise represented on our campus. Also in 2011, an interdisciplinary research group, Food in the Field, emerged with the support of the Center for the Study of Women in Society. The group has hosted numerous work-in-progress talks and receptions for visiting food scholars on diverse topics that spanned the globe from prehistory to the present.

Due to the broad interest in food issues among its faculty across disciplines and its core strength in the liberal arts and sciences, the University of Oregon is uniquely positioned to address the need for a truly interdisciplinary food studies program. Added to these strong academic foundations, our program is located in one of the most beautiful and productive regions of the United States. The Eugene-Springfield area, the Willamette Valley and the Pacific Northwest at large represent a tremendously rich environment for food studies and food-related livelihoods and enterprises.

With the launch in Fall 2013 of the Graduate Specialization in Food Studies and Fall 2016 of the Undergraduate Minor in Food Studies, we have established a signature program. Due to its existing and firm commitment to interdisciplinary research and teaching and its established focus on food-related themes, the Environmental Studies Program is the academic home for the Food Studies Program.

An undergrad BS (with Nutrition, Public Health, Food Studies): about 25 each year; 200 in all; see below on the clustering of the curriculum and themes

An MA: bread and butter of the Food Studies program (admit about 50 each Fall). We have identified three major content domains (a) Policy/Advocacy; (b) Media/Cultural/Social Analysis; (c) Social Entrepreneurship (the last one driven by student interest and initiative + partnership with the Business School; small companies ventures = Dona Chai, SeeFood Media, Haven’s Kitchen, Rooted Fare, etc.)

A very small PhD program - agnostic about quantitative and qualitative; social sciences and the Humanities

Attention to skills with numbers and with writing; experience and portfolio

The Sterling College program, as a program in Sustainable Food Agriculture & Food Systems (and not “Food Studies” per se), and within a college that is defined by “ecological thinking and action,” is first and foremost concerned with socio-environmental definitions and understandings of food and agriculture. The program offers coursework in both natural and agriculture sciences (i.e., soil science) as well as social sciences/humanities (i.e., anthropology of food). As such, the program attempts to provide a wide-ranging interdisciplinary grounding in an environmentally focused agriculture and food systems program.

Besides this environmentally focused curricular orientation, the program at Sterling offers complementary reduced-credit “skills” courses often taught by adjunct instructors drawn from the broader community of practitioners in the greater community. These can range from permaculture design, to organic orchard management, to cheese and bread making. Courses in these areas are variable offerings based on instructor availability. 

We define Food Studies broadly to include scholarship and education in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences and in professional contexts as well. Our connections and partnerships bridge into the community as well with linkages to local, regional, national and international entities and processes. While we attend to food studies within this broad frame, as the state’s flagship Arts & Sciences campus (non-land grant), our program has a focus in the humanities and social sciences.

Essential to keep cost under control; fund-raising linked to affordability for students; maintaining adequate student interest (social media presence); recruiting new hires with expanding field (especially about racial inequalities; global inequalities; agroecology; consumer psychology; ethics)

Relating Strategic to Tactical stuff: Repeated explaining to every Deans’ team – agile Chair and Program Directors – how we are cutting edge on sustainability, social justice, animal welfare, student interest (food is the new music). I have worked with 4 Deans’ teams in 15 years: the task is to understand every Dean’s strategic vision and relate it to Food Studies (Sustainability; Community; University of the City and in the City; Social Justice – access and equity)

Partnership with Nutrition and Public Health (gives us gravitas)

Partnership with the Media world (gives us coolness)

Urban Farm, Food Lab…. allows us to calibrate the challenges of urban sustainability on a very small scale; generates a lot of media attention (as we are in NYC); and allows us an opportunity to offer community service

Drawing attention to strategically important grants, publications of all faculty, alumni placement, media attention (without over-crowding and noise), company creation, most interesting courses, etc.

Challenges: cost and affordability (which is also linked to our location in NYC)

As mentioned above, the SAFS degree is the most popular at Sterling. It tends to have a steady stream of student interest, but this is often supplemented with active outreach efforts. The RFC published a quarterly newsletter, for example, that provided an outlet for faculty, staff, and student work and thought related to SAFS. Through the aegis of the RFC, partner projects were initiated with the Nulhegan Band of the Abenaki Nation, the University of Vermont, the Huertas Project (a farmworker food security project), Migrant Justice, the Center for an Agricultural Economy, among others. These partnership projects created additional outlets for faculty and staff interest, thereby maintaining morale and motivation, they increased the visibility of the program, while also providing invaluable opportunities to direct student interest.

Student recruitment occurs through a combination of efforts. These include a very active social media presence, and regular tabling at conferences and events likely to be attractive to prospective students. These include regular presence (both tabling and presenting) at the annual conferences of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, and other events like the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine.   

Our program does regular outreach to students through graduate and undergraduate level advising and classroom pitches. We utilize our broad faculty base (65+) to identify and recruit new faculty members as they join our institution.

Urban Farm = green space for community

Food Lab = cooking classes for student groups

Community health = with the help of nutrition and dietetic students and faculty; equity and social justice; under-served communities; environmental racism; access to good food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables at affordable prices; SNAP acceptance at Farmers Market; advocacy work with immigrant street vendors; changing laws on vending in the City; healthy eating initiatives with African-American churches in Harlem

Iron Chef Dysphagia = working with medical school and allied health on swallowing disorders

Social entrepreneurship initiatives = jobs opportunities for the under-served; racial and gender equity foregrounded  

The SAFS program is integral to the Sterling campus community. Through integration with the farm and kitchen, the SAFS program provides food (in form of both raw ingredients and prepared dishes) for our community, and through closed-loop management, also provides campus-generated fertility for the farm operation through composting operations. In addition to on-campus contributions, the farm offers an annual Community Supported Agriculture program for the immediate community. As of the 2020 season, the CSA included subsidized shares and ability to accept EBT, to expand to accessibility of the program. The seed-to-table diagram below illustrates the various dimensions of the program’s deep integration.  

Seed-to-table Diagram

Seed-to-table Diagram
Seed-to-table Diagram

Our Food Talks Series is the main venue for reaching the campus and local community with food studies related programs.

·         Allyship events within the university such as the Colloquium Feast/Famine that drew in supporters and softened competitors; monthly events

·         Translation of what the emerging field implies for bigger issues such as sustainable development; urban inequalities; racial justice to outsiders = Dean’s Team; development opportunities

·         Provide evidence of durable student interest (application numbers)

·         Strong media presence (Tweets, IG)

·         Agile response to emerging and acute issues

·         Intensive fund-raising for affordability and equity (scholarships)

One of my personal highlights from my time at Sterling was our seed conservation and rematriation partnership with the Nulhegan Band of the Abenaki Nation. Through this partnership, realized through the Abenaki-Dawnland Heritage Garden project, Sterling college faculty, staff, and students worked with Abenaki tribal partners to preserve and recirculate Abenaki seed and plant diversity and associated cultural knowledge and histories. This effort resulted in the enrichment of agricultural education opportunities for Sterling College students and provided a forum for meaningful interactions with tribal partners. In addition to the immediate goals of this partnership, it also generated great interest among students in seed systems work, and resulted in many adjacent partnership projects, including a regional seed systems research project with colleagues at the University of Vermont.

Regional seed systems research project flyer | University of Vermont

Regional seed systems research project flyer | University of Vermont
Regional seed systems research project flyer | University of Vermont

The Food Talks, even in throughout the pandemic, have been well attended and have generated a lot of interest. During COVID we used Zoom as our meeting platform and had lots of new participants from across the globe. See our events page: