Serving up Food for All

The academic theme for 2015-17, announced by Chancellor Carol L. Folt in the spring, takes off with various activities and events related to food.

As far as steering committee co-chairs Marcie Cohen Ferris and Alice Ammerman are concerned, Carolina’s food theme is organic to
the campus.

“We don’t see this as something we are doing to the campus,” Ammerman said. “It’s the campus rising up together and getting inspired by the theme, each other, crossing disciplines and working side-by-side with the community.”

Announced in the spring as the University’s academic theme for 2015–17 by Chancellor Carol L. Folt, “Food for All: Local and Global Perspectives” takes off this fall with several activities and events on a broad spectrum of food topics.

The co-chairs themselves – one a nutrition researcher and the other a scholar of Southern food cultures – embody the broadness of the topic. Ammerman is director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and a professor in the Department of Nutrition in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Ferris is a professor in the Department of American Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences and author of “The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region” (UNC Press, 2014).

The co-chairs believe this universal theme has special resonance in the state and at the University.

“North Carolina is an agricultural state, and we have a long growing season, food and agriculture are critical components of our economy,” Ammerman said.

So it’s no coincidence that food is a topic that fascinates Tar Heel researchers, from the Odum Institute’s early studies of poverty and hunger to the state of the art investigations done today at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis.

“What’s really been exciting about the Food for All theme is that it brings attention to this great hub of all the magnificent research, resources, publications, service and teaching that is happening around food – and has been since the 1920s – here at Carolina,” Ferris said.

Food is also an integral part of campus life: Nourish International Hunger Lunches in the Pit, Community Garden produce distributed to housekeeping staff, the award-winning sustainability practices of Carolina Dining Services and on-site farmers markets.

The theme also ties into the Global Research Institute’s “Feeding a Hungry World: Food Security in the 21st Century” research theme, which will bring international experts to speak on campus.

Food is Carolina’s second pan-university theme, following the Water in Our World theme of 2012–14. The idea of an academic theme sprang from the 2011 Academic Plan, which called for the development of innovative ways to focus on major problems in society.

“It’s a fantastic way to address so many significant challenges and ideas and issues through the connective power of food,” Ferris said, “but also recognize and celebrate the pleasure and joy that food can create.”

The steering committee is grouping the many flavors of the food theme under these five foundational initiatives:

  • the University and its role as a food systems innovator;
  • teaching and learning about food;
  • the contribution of food to health promotion and disease prevention;
  • food access and food justice; and
  • the documentation of food cultures and history.

With about 40 food-related classes already underway, the co-chairs have been excited to learn about faculty members taking the initiative to incorporate the food theme in their classes. Courtney Rivard in English and Comparative Literature is having students in her Digital Literacy class create a map of the University’s food landscapes – from dining halls to Franklin Street and the Carrboro Farmers’ Market – for their semester project, Ferris said.

Also, Entrepreneur-in-Residence Buck Goldstein has dedicated all the student venture projects for his popular Economics 125 class to address the food theme, Ammerman said. Panelists, recruited by Ammerman and Ferris, made “reverse pitches” to the 380 students, describing the food-related challenges to be addressed, hoping to inspire a team of future entrepreneurs to create a product or service to solve it.

“If we can, to use a pun – there are a lot of bad puns around food – we want to plant a seed for solving some of the ‘wicked’ problems related to food consumption, food production and food access,” Ammerman said, “there’s an enormous opportunity for students, faculty and staff to come up with creative solutions.”

Food for All upcoming events

  • Sept. 10, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. First Farmers Market of the Fall, in the Pit. (Three more are scheduled).
  • Sept. 17, 4-6 p.m. Food and the Humanities: Carolina Tasting Salon, Hyde Hall. Five UNC faculty members discuss their current work in food studies, complemented by the region’s best seasonal food and drink.
  • Sept. 29, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Feed the 5000, in the Pit and Lenoir Hall. Carolina Dining Service serves up a free lunch made entirely of food that would have otherwise been wasted.
  • Oct. 23, noon. Lecture by Shenggen Fan at FedEx Global Education Center. The director of the International Food Policy Research Institute will speak, with a reception afterward.

For updated information, be sure to check the new website, foodforall.web.unc.edu.