Educated Eater

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.

Everything I could fit into my backpack for the week

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.

Studying International Nutrition with UT Students in SE Asia

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.

Hook Em’

Asiago

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Asiago,
    I want to thank you for your efforts to educate the UT community about healthy food practices. Your passion for food warms my heart and I am so grateful to trailblazers like you who are dedicated to leading our society into a healthier, happier, more sustainable, and more personal relationship with food.
    At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice from the picture of your groceries that you are purchasing a large amount of foods that are either processed or shipped from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.
    I believe that the next step in healthy eating is, interestingly enough, one in the direction of our ancestors; we must get back to eating whole, unprocessed foods that are locally or at least regionally grown. As you surly know, processed foods (such as the mac and cheese pictured above) contain potentially harmful synthetic chemicals and tend to be high in calories yet low in nutrients.
    At the same time, simply buying whole foods isn’t the answer. Given that much of the produce you find at your local supermarket (HEB) has been grown in nutrient deficient soil, sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides, pumped with hormones, picked before it has a chance to fully ripen (aka reach its maximum nutritional capacity), and then exposed to harsh, nutrient degrading conditions of light and heat during its long haul across the country, the move back to locally grown organic produce seems like a no-brainer.
    That is why I am working with local groups such as the Food is Free Project (foodisfreeproject.org) to increase the amount of food that Austinites are getting from their own community (or even their own yards!) I am also working with some friends to compile a list of local farms and gardens that are accepting volunteer labor in exchange for fresh produce to provide people with an ultra cheap and healthy source of produce, as well as a great opportunity to get their hands in the earth and develop a deeper appreciation for all the work that goes into putting food on the table.
    In my opinion, it is vitally important for us to re-establish a sense of community within our society and to remind ourselves of our intimate relationship with, and dependence on, this planet that sustains us. I believe the local food movement helps to achieve both of those goals.
    As a recently graduate UT alum with his hands in projects all around town, I would love to talk with you about how we could cooperate to help students, and the Austin community at large, move towards a healthier relationship with food.

    Thank you for your time and for your dedication!

    In Solidarity,
    Dustin Fedako
    210-364-4571

    1. Hi Dustin,

      Thanks for engaging in discussion of a very important issue.

      I just thought I’d throw in my two cents.

      I think the issue of food and where it comes from is much more complicated than the food movement often makes it out to be. Like Asiago said, “Food is complex” and it’s often not as simple as the buzzwords make it out to be. Eat Local, Eat Organic, Eat Sustainable — these terms flatten the complexities of food and fail to take into account some serious issues that arise when we begin to think critically about food.

      Consider the fact that the whole idea of decreasing our “food miles” can often end up being WORSE for the environment (individuals have to make multiple trips to the grocery store and the farmer’s market to get everything they need, it’s actually more energy efficient to grow crops that do well in certain climates and then ship them than it is to force needed crops that don’t grow well in a local region, etc. Check out my post on this very issue here: https://studyfood.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/local-food-consider-the-consequences/).

      Further, it’s a bit idealistic, given the realties of population growth and urbanization, to assume that we can go back to eating as our ancestors did. Local food does not have the productive capacity to feed the entire world and will end up making food MORE expensive for those that are most in need of cheap food. Asiago also brings up a good point in his comment — not everyone has the time, inclination, or green thumb, to grow their own food and cook 7 nights a week. These people shouldn’t be shunned as bad or morally wrong. Instead, we should be finding solutions to the problems in our food system that can cater to their lifestyle. How can we make industrialized food healthier and of a higher quality? What sort of technology can be used to better distribute food? These are the type of questions we should be asking.

      I know I’ve gone on a bit long, so just one more point (and we can discuss this more in person/over email if you’d like). To assume that we should eat as our ancestors did is not only idealistic, it’s damning of the human race. Our ancestors lived lives that, as Hobbes says, were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Average life span was decades lower than it is now. Inclement weather often meant death since entire crops would be wiped out and there would be no other source of food. Farm work was physically damaging. Women were confined to the home, to the field, and over a hot stove.

      The “eat local” prescriptions that we’re constantly barraged with are unfair because of the connotative moral obligation they carry. Eat local or your ruining our environment. Eat local or you don’t care about your children’s future. This creates a false dichotomy — those who eat locally are good, those who don’t are bad. Again, it’s not that simple. I care intensely about the future of our food, but I also don’t think local is the primary answer.

      And finally, to leave off on a friendly note, don’t get me wrong — I enjoy going to the farmer’s market and making relationships with local food purveyors. I even work for one. I think the products and produce you can get at the farmer’s market are delicious because they are grown/made by individuals who are passionate about their product. I also love to cook using these products (as well as others — I’m a college student and my budget doesn’t allow me to shop solely at the Farmer’s Market). I’m certainly not against supporting our local economy and these small businesses, I’m just for thinking a little bit harder about our national and global food system.

  2. Asiago says:

    Hi Dustin! Thanks for taking the time to read my post and share your thoughts. You made a lot of good points that I should address here for other readers, but FOR SURE we need to meet up and chat.

    First the Photo: This photo was from my first semester at UT in Spring 2009. I wonder what it would look like now, if I went to the grocery store and picked up a backpack full of goods.
    I can’t debate you on the topic of food miles because the idea of eating local is good, and attractable. Nor can I discuss about soil, first off because I am not a scientist, and second I too believe that the synergetic effects of biodiversity and living with nature is much better for the health of society.

    I do feel the need to mention that returning to a “locally grown organic produce seems like a no-brainer” and an “ultra cheap and healthy source of produce” does make me draw a line between realism and idealism. Just like everything in life, we need to find a balance in our food ways. I do not believe that a large percent of the American population wants to return to the fields to grow fresh produce. I’ve have met plenty of farmin’ friends that are living the holistic life. And I am happy for them. But one of my biggest concerns about food lies in the costs, and well… the real costs of food for our culture here in the States. I live in a society that perceives time as money. That we can use time just like we do money. Spent it, save it, or even waste it. As a college student, I get paid by the hour. How many hours of my life will I have to devote to growing food so that I can eat healthy? Is food really free, when I don’t have the education, experience or time to grow it? I admit I am dependent on technology and big agriculture. But in certain cases, I am ok with that, because I would rather devote my time to doing other things.

    One thing I was really attracted to in your comment was the word “Relationship”. After all of my food studies, I agree the quickest way to changing our diets for the better is to think about food as a loving, caring partner in life. See you soon!

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