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Thursday, June 24, 2021

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Students learned about insects as a source of protein at a market in Oaxaca, Mexico during a Summer 2018 field study program  funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Photo: SDSU SOULA Project) Students learned about insects as a source of protein at a market in Oaxaca, Mexico during a Summer 2018 field study program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Photo: SDSU SOULA Project)
 


Food Studies Minor Debuts in Fall

Students interested in how food is interconnected with sociopolitical, health, economic, and environmental issues spurred the idea.
By Leslie L.J. Reilly
 

“I am passionate about understanding the complex realities of the food we consume, and through the minor I will be able to dive deeper into the industry than I could have imagined.”

Students are passionate about food.

Ten years ago, San Diego State University geography professor Pascale Joassart-Marcelli created a general education course titled Geography of Food. “Everybody was a little bit surprised by the course,” she said. “They weren't quite sure what topics we would cover and whether there would be enough material for a whole semester.”

In the first year 11 students enrolled; the following year it was 25, and by the next year more than 100. Interest kept growing like a vegetable plant.

“It really showed me that there was a lot of interest in understanding food in a broader context, not just in terms of nutrition or agriculture kind of the silos of food, but really thinking about it in its interconnected social, political, economic, cultural and environmental contexts,” said Joassart-Marcelli, now director of the food studies minor program. “That's exactly what my course was doing.”

In response to growing interest, she developed other geography courses related to food studies that attracted students from all kinds of disciplines.

“There were students from many different majors in those courses; students from communication interested in writing or making documentaries about food, students from philosophy concerned about ethical issues, or students from engineering passionate about green technology,” Joassart-Marcelli said.

“Many of the students were interested in environmental issues and sustainability,” Joassart-Marcelli said, noting the major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer manufacturing, food storage, packaging and transport and other aspects of agriculture and food systems. “There's so much we can do with food to reduce these impacts and start addressing the climate crisis. Many students are also interested in world hunger and food insecurity.”

Joassart-Marcelli brought together faculty members from several departments across campus who were already teaching courses with a focus on food or were interested in developing new courses on this topic with the goal of creating a minor in food studies, with a comprehensive and interdisciplinary curriculum. New courses have been developed in philosophy, European studies, and geography, and others are in the planning stages.

Enthusiastic students asked for a deeper dig into food studies. “We are now able to support their passion with an interdisciplinary minor,” Joassart-Marcelli said.

Student Blake Curl plans to add the minor to his degree in geography.

“I am excited about the new food studies minor because it will further equip me with the skills necessary to help solve issues related to global food insecurity and malnutrition,” he said. “I am passionate about understanding the complex realities of the food we consume, and through the minor I will be able to dive deeper into the industry than I could have imagined.”

After graduation, Curl believes the minor will help him stand out on his application for the Peace Corps and also help him find an impactful and relevant job in the food industry.

Creative solutions

Food studies is a rigorous, interdisciplinary, and integrative field in which students examine food from many interrelated perspectives and contexts and develop creative solutions to the ills of the modern food system.

Food insecurity, food-related diseases, labor exploitation, environmental degradation, climate change, waste, uneven access to food, animal abuse, and the stigmatization of bodies and eating practices are problems that plague the contemporary food system.

These concerns have spurred tremendous interest in food during the past two decades. Food became the central focus of numerous popular books, films, art performances, and other media.

“Many students are interested and passionate about food, but they often think of it as just a hobby or a personal interest. Now, they can actually pursue a degree in food studies, turning their passion into a set of skills that builds on what they are learning in their majors and expands their thinking, opening up doors to interesting and impactful careers,” said Joassart-Marcelli.

For more information, visit cal.sdsu.edu/food.