Dear UT Community,
During my undergraduate years at UT, I have completely transformed my relationship with food. I have become an Educated Eater, a student who has been exposed to a diverse understanding of food and eating. I was introduced to many new foods, learned about the real cost of food, studied a little bit of nutrition, started cooking, and even took several courses about food. One summer I had the wonderful opportunity to study international nutrition and food culture in Southeast Asia, another time in Brazil where I ate rice and watered down beans with my impoverished host family. All of my studies at UT and abroad have had a food focus.
After three years, I reminisce on the adventure I have had educating myself about food in college and reflecting on my personal journey of deciding what to eat.
I remember having to travel by foot or bus with my empty backpack to purchase just enough food to hold me over for the school week. I remember my first semester eating all alone in the school cafeteria. My parents were no longer around to buy food for me, so I had to learn how to hunt down free food events around campus.
Now, as I walk around campus, I see so many students trying figure out their own food studies. Some are learning about the economics of food. Why hundreds of students line up on Gregory Plaza receive a free Wendy’s hamburger or download a Google App to get a free meal. Some are receiving a lecture about college culture as they come to class at eight in the morning to find Red Bull energy drinks taped to the bottom of their desks, and random pizza/soda drive-bys as young cheerleaders jump out vans and shove products into your hands. Some students even get an introduction to the politics of food as with the student organization that brought a cupcake truck onto campus to fundraise and now faces a violation of the Institutional Rules (Section 13-205 Solicitation).
College students have to make many new complex decisions about what to eat, but I don’t see many programs teaching them how or why we eat. Longhorns are always talking about food. So why doesn’t UT have a food-focused program that students can use to discuss food and relate it to their studies?
It’s a shame that with all these students trying to educate themselves about food, we don’t have a platform for them to come together and discuss our relationship with food. What is even worse is that there are professors that recognize the importance of teaching people about the deeper meaning of food, but don’t have the “demand” to prove that students want to learn about food in an academic setting.
After taking food courses in nutrition, anthropology, government, rhetoric, geography, and international business, I decided connect the dots and create a platform where the UT Food Community could come together to learn about food in an interdisciplinary way. This platform would challenge students’ conceptions of food with hopes to create innovative ideas and educated minds. THESE STUDENTS CAN CREATE POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS TO SOCIAL PROBLEMS. By bring people to the table, we can create a program that will benefit all students, from freshmen to doctoral candidates, faculty and staff. Whether you are beginning your introduction to the complexities of the world’s foodways, or producing new research that addresses food issues such as obesity, cancer, and hunger, we can become the Educated Eaters that will ultimately improve both our personal health and that of society’s.
UT doesn’t have a “Food Studies” program yet. However, large universities across the nation are beginning to create their own. Each one is unique with its own set of terms to describe what food issues they address. Yet all Food Studies programs seem to have a common trait: concern for the future of food. Interestingly, I received an email from Dr. Lucy Long at Bowling Green State University stated that Food Studies might have started at UT Austin, “Students at UT might be proud to hear that some of the food studies theory work came out of the UT Austin Folklore program in the 70s and 80s. Back when Richard Bauman was there and developing his performance theories, his students were applying his ideas to food.”
The best way for Educated Eaters to change the world is to learn to care for the relationship we have with food. Let’s study food in a variety of academic disciplines, and then apply what we learn to create solutions to food issues. By opening our minds to all the manifestations of food, we can begin to understand and analyze its complexity and innovate new ideas and leaders. The challenge for our UT Food Community will be to create a balanced interdisciplinary program that includes both the love of food and the social concerns surrounding it. Students should not only learn about the history and culture of food but the politics, economics, and other systems playing a role in our foodways. Similar to what I learned in Nutrition 101 about balancing my plate with a variety of colorful foods, our academic program will need to be served with a diverse and portioned food portfolio. The study of food is not limited to the field of nutrition; there are plenty of students in business, the arts, engineering, and policy who are also studying food. To make a healthy plate, we need to find appropriate food courses to fit each student’s needs.
The Food Studies Project is the beginning of this platform of discussion about food. We are a student-initiated organization where realists and idealists can come together to eat, learn, and discuss the topic of food. As we find our balance between food interests and concerns, we hope to create innovative ideas and leaders for the future of food. We need support from students and faculty to create a Food Studies program. I see the demand in the waitlisted food courses, academic departments creating graduate level food concentrations, and students who send us their praise for initiating this project. Let’s come together to create a new venture that will invest in our students to create new solutions to food issues and implement them. Food is complex; let our platform at The University of Texas at Austin challenge students with their conceptions of food, support their food studies, and become Educated Eaters.