My 4 Favorite Food Documentaries

Over ten years ago, Morgan Spurlock comically captured the dangers of eating too much fast food in his seminal 2004 documentary, Supersize Me. Since then, there has been no shortage of documentaries for those interested in learning more about nutrition and the food system. Overwhelmed by the number of food-centric films on the menu? See below for four of my favorites.

Food Inc. (available on Netflix)

Watch to Learn: Why To Pay Attention to Where Our Food Comes From

If you’re wondering why there’s such a fuss about farmers markets and organic, local food, this must-watch 2009 documentary clears things up. While those unfamiliar with the food movement may be ready to dismiss food system issues as frivolous, this film explores how the choices we make at the grocery store can affect not only our own health and well-being, but the well-being of all the people and animals throughout the food chain. (Note: If you enjoyed Food Inc., and would like to learn more about food justice and issues of farm labor inequality, then check out Food Chains, also available on Netflix.)

A Place at the Table (available on Netflix)

Watch to Learn: Why Hunger and Obesity are Two Sides of the Same Coin

While Food Inc is probably the most well-known food documentary, A Place at the Table is, in my opinion, the most important. This profound 2013 film explains how hunger and obesity are both symptoms of the same problem: poverty and food insecurity. (If you’d like to learn more about this issue, see the blog post I wrote after I first saw this film.)

Bite Size (available on Vimeo and Amazon Instant Video // $4.99 to rent)

Watch to Learn: How to Support Kids Struggling with Obesity

Although this new 2015 film doesn’t feature any of the big name narrators or interviews that similar food documentaries include, the message is actually pretty powerful. This documentary follows four obese children, each taking a different approach to get healthy (from team sports, to community groups, to a healthy boarding school). Regardless of the weight loss tactics, what really stood out was how important it is for kids to have someone (be it a parent, coach, or school counselor) advocating for them, and how much this support affects their health and success.

Fed Up (available on Amazon Instant Video // $3.99 to rent)

Watch to Learn: How the Industrial Food Industry is Contributing to Childhood Obesity

Focusing on added sugars’ contribution to childhood obesity, this 2013 documentary is somewhat of a cross between Food Inc. and Bite Size. The film explores why today’s food environment is often considered ‘obesogenic’ (full of obesity-inducing triggers and cues) and how our unhealthy, corporate-controlled food system negatively affects kids.

While the films listed above are my favorites in the genre, I have seen a number of other food documentaries (including Forks Over Knives, King Corn, The World According to Monsanto, Inside Chipotle, and Food Matters, among others). The next food film that I’m hoping to watch is Cafeteria Man, an inspiring documentary that chronicles a school lunch success story. What are your favorite food documentaries?

– Kelly

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What is a degree in Gastronomy?

Gastronomy

Last month, I graduated with a Masters in Gastronomy from Boston University. This revelation is often followed by blank stares and questions about my future in intestinal medicine or the study of outer space. Close, but no cigar.

Gastronomy is the study of food, not just from a culinary perspective, but from anthropological, historical, scientific, and policy-based perspectives as well. Below are the courses I took to complete my degree. You can click on each course to read more about it. Also, check out the Gastronomy student blog to learn more about current students and alumni.

Required core classes for the Gastronomy program:

Food Policy concentration:

Electives:

Other classes that I wish I would have had a chance to take (had time permitted) are: Food Marketing, The Many Meanings of Meat, Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts, Urban Agriculture, Food Science, and Food Microbiology.

What does one do with a Gastronomy degree? Graduates of the program work as food writers, consultants for food and beverage companies, culinary instructors, food marketers, as well as for nonprofit organizations working to reform the food system. As for me? I’m using my culinary training and knowledge of the greater food system in order to achieve my long-term goal of making healthy foods both more accessible and more appealing.

– Kelly

Voting for Nutrition: Find out Which Politicians are Supporting Healthy Food

Aligning my food choices with my priorities is one of my nearest and dearest causes, but voting with your fork can only get you so far. That’s why it’s important to elect representatives that will be champions of good food policy. To keep track of which elected officials are supporting nutrition programs, hunger alleviation, and responsible farming, it takes a score sheet. Luckily, Food Policy Action did the hard part for you.

According to Food Policy Action,

“Our mission is to highlight the importance of food policy and to promote policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, improve public health, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems, protect and maintain sustainable fisheries, treat farm animals humanely and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.”

Food Policy Action produces a scorecard on how each Senator and House member votes on various food issues.

Food Policy Action

 

You can search by state, zip code, or the name of the politician.

Food Policy Action

So far, the scores are all over the place. In the 2013 Food Policy Scorecard, 73 House members and 14 Senators scored a perfect 100%! That means that these 87 politicians consistently championed good food policies (including issues of nutrition, conservation, and hunger) EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Unfortunately, there are also some failures. In 2013, 28 House members and 10 Senators scored a 0%, meaning they voted against policies that support food access, healthy diets, and local food systems.

Are your elected officials champions of good food? Find out here.

– Kelly

5 Reasons I’m Optimistic about Child Nutrition in America

First Lady Michelle Obama has done more for childhood nutrition in the past month than food advocates have seen in years! With the recent anniversary of her Let’s Move campaign, a slew of positive legislation is being pushed through with lots of help from the First Lady. But the folks in Washington aren’t the only ones prioritizing childhood nutrition. Below are signs from all across the country that the food landscape for kids is turning a corner.

FLOTUS

Image via Obama Foodorama

1. Universal Free Meals: Schools can opt to offer universal free meals to all students, regardless of income, at schools in which at least 40% of students are eligible for free meals through the National School Lunch Program. In schools that have at least 65% of students eligible for free meals, the universal free model is actually cost neutral! This program puts an end to the stigma of being eligible for free meals, students being turned away from lack of funds, and the burdensome paperwork associated with the tiered system.

DC central Kitchen

Lunch in DC public schools: Chicken Quesadilla on Whole Wheat Tortilla, Black Beans, Salsa, Local Apple & Milk, by DC Central Kitchen (image via CSPI)

2. Limit on junk food marketing: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Michelle Obama to announce the USDA’s proposed rule for School Wellness policy, which includes a first-ever component that bans unhealthy marketing on school grounds. This means phasing out on-campus advertising of soda and junk food on scoreboards, vending machines, menu posters, cups and plates, and more. What is considered junk food? The proposal uses the same guidelines in USDA’s Smart Snacks in School rule, which includes limits on total calories, sugar, salt and fat, and requires healthier ingredients, like whole grain and low-fat dairy.

Fruit selection

Self-serve fruit at Ashland public schools in MA (image via CSPI)

3. Healthy food marketing gets a boost: Vegetable companies (including Bird’s Eye and Bolthouse Farms) are venturing into the healthy food marketing by using tactics such as extreme ads (think Mountain Dew-style) and partnerships with Disney to tempt youngsters into eating their veggies. Additionally, the First Lady announced a commitment from Subway introducing their “pile on the veggies campaign”. This effort will focus on increasing consumption of fruits of vegetables among children, and will set nutrition parameters for what can be offered on the children’s menu. That being said, food companies (Subway included) can still be counted on to push unhealthy foods, but a targeted healthy food marketing campaign is a much needed step in the right direction.

Bolthouse Farms

Bolthouse Farms takes a cue from junk food purveyors in this ad for baby carrots (image via NPR)

4. Students eat more produce: A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found a 23% increase in fruit consumption and a 16% increase in vegetable consumption after the new school nutrition guidelines were introduced in 2012. Contrary to popular belief, the study did NOT find a corresponding increase in food waste.

Saint Paul lunch

Lunch from Saint Paul public schools (image via CSPI)

5. Obesity rates for young children may be dropping: According to a major federal health survey, obesity rates for 2-5 year olds have dropped by a whopping 43% in the past decade. While skeptics are wary that a drop this large is a statistical fluke, this potential drop is the first sign evidence that we may be turning a corner in the obesity epidemic. Let the public health efforts continue!

– Kelly

P.S. To learn more about the school lunch program, see here.

Female Food Heroes: 9 Women Shaking Up our Food System

1. Michelle Obama

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Through the “Let’s Move” Initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama has been a relentless voice in championing healthy habits. It is inspiring to see one of the most public figures in America devote herself to such a noble cause, addressing not only the American public, but the food industry as well. I am particularly impressed by her September 18th address on food marketing to children (check it out here).

2. Marion Nestle

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Marion Nestle is my absolute favorite voice in the nutrition and food systems arena. While not a Registered Dietitian, this NYU nutrition professor and public health expert has a no-nonsense interpretation of nutrition science that simply can’t be argued with. Her bluntness is refreshing, and she has no problem pointing fingers when talking about the culprits of obesity. Marion Nestle has written several insightful books, and I am completely addicted to her blog, foodpolitics.com.

3. Kathleen Marrigan

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Kathleen Marrigan has been a champion of organic and local foods from the very beginning. In fact, her MIT dissertation became the basis of the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act. In 2010, Time Magazine named Kathleen Marrigan as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.  She has held various positions for the US Department of Agriculture throughout her career, including most recently the Deputy Secretary (a post from which she retired in March of 2013). During her time there, she managed the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, and worked tirelessly to strengthen the American food system. Oh yea, and she’s a longhorn (hook ’em!).

4. Frances Moore Lappe

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In 1971, 27 year old Frances Moore Lappe wrote the book on sustainable diets. Literally. In Diet for a Small Planet, she made made waves by re-framing world hunger as a problem of distribution, not a problem of production. Since then, she has authored or co-authored 17 other books related to world hunger and living democracies, and has co-founded 3 organizations (Food First, the Small Planet Institute, and the Small Planet Fund). Her enthusiasm has been an inspiration to numerous activists over the years, and I am proud to be a new member of the Small Planet Institute team.

5. Anna Lappe

Anna-Lappe

Anna Blythe Lappe is the daughter of Frances Moore Lappe, and was also a co-founder of the Small Planet Institute. Anna has written multiple books, including the recent publication, Diet for a Hot Planet. She is also an advocate for “real food” and sustainable food systems (causes near and dear to my heart!) Check out her TED talk on food marketing to children here.

6. Alice Waters

about_alicewaters

When people search for the beginning of the local food revolution, many people point to Chef Alice Waters. Since the 1971 opening of Chez Panisse, Alice Waters has shown consumers the magic of local, seasonal food, as well as helping chefs and other members of the food system see that eating locally and seasonally is not only possible, but profitable as well. In 1996 Alice expanded her reach into children’s food and nutrition education by founding the Edible Schoolyard Project.

7. Ann Cooper

photo-anncooper

Chef Ann Cooper, aka the Renegade Lunch Lady, is working hard to show our kids what healthy, delicious food looks like. Reforming the National School lunch program is a HUGE challenge! (I would know, I spent 6 weeks managing an elementary school cafeteria). So I applaud Ann for acting not only as a role model in her own school district, but as a consultant and advocate as well.

8. Ellie Krieger

Ellie-Krieger-Food-You-Crave-Luscious-Recipes-For-A-Healthy-Life

“To get people to eat well, don’t say a word about health. Just cook fantastic food for them”- Ellie Krieger

Ellie Krieger is a Registered Dietitian, television chef, James Beard Award winning cookbook author, and consultant to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity initiative. With her recipes, Ellie Krieger proves that healthy eating is not a punishment, and that choosing health does not mean sacrificing taste. It’s exciting to see RDs become public figures and have the opportunity to model healthy behaviors!

9. Vandana Shiva

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Located in India, Dr. Vandana Shiva is a world renowned expert on agriculture and food systems. She started started research and advocacy organization Navdanya “to protect biodiversity, defend farmers’ rights and promote organic farming”. A relentless advocate for environmental activism and biodiversity, Dr. Vandana Shiva has also authored numerous books.

That’s my list! I would have loved to feature 10 women (because 10 is a nice, even number) but these were the main ones that came to mind. Any ideas?

– Kelly

P.S. For photo credits, click the image.

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: US Food Policy and Culture

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US Food Policy and Culture has been my absolute favorite course in the Gastronomy program, and I’m a little afraid that it can’t be topped. Topics that we covered in class included the Farm Bill, the National School Lunch Program, organics, GMOs, obesity, hunger, local foods, and so much more, all with a focus on U.S. Food Policy. I have always had an interest in these topics, but it was very valuable to learn the intricacies of how various branches of the government regulate them, as well as the role that private intuitions or non profit organizations play. As a Dietitian with a strong interest in US Food Policy, I was also extremely pleased that this course introduced me to a multitude of organizations working to make good food available to all.

Ellen MesserEllen Messer taught the course, and is the same instructor that I took Food Policy and Food Systems with last semester. It was structured similarly to her previous course, with biweekly short assignments, a commodity paper midterm, and a final. Dr. Messer’s passion for eliminating hunger came across in this course as well, but it hit much closer to home as we focused on the US rather than looking at food issues internationally.

I am a huge Marion Nestle fan, so I was excited that her Food Politics book was a major contributor to the course, in addition to a chapter from What to Eat. Another great resource was Dan Imhoff’s Food Fight, a great introduction to the Farm Bill. For those of you that would like to learn more about US Food Policy, I highly recommend starting with Marion Nestle’s book. But all of the books I read for the course were excellent, and you should read them all if you get the chance. Not pictured is The End of Food, by Paul Roberts, a book that was also recommended in Ellen Messer’s international course last semester.

Image via Tufts

– Kelly

The Link Between Hunger and Obesity

When most people imagine what hunger looks like, they imagine emaciated children with protruding bones and bare feet, likely to be found somewhere in war-torn Africa. But what if you saw a child that was overweight, or even obese. Could that child possibly be hungry? If they are obese, surely they are getting enough to eat, right?

This is one of the problems with identifying hunger in America. Although these problems appear to be contradictory, hunger and obesity are actually very closely related. How so? People experience hunger for many reasons, but almost all of them can be traced back to poverty. Some people simply cannot afford food, or have budgets so tight that they do not know where there next meal is coming from. When they do buy food, they are looking to fill themselves up. Junk foods are cheap, easy, and offer immediate gratification. This explains the paradox of why many people shopping at food pantries appear overweight, rather than emaciated.

In addition to financial access to food, some people lack physical and geographic access. While not incredibly common, a population of America’s poor lives trapped in what is known as a food desert. For these people, there is no accessible supermarket. Fresh produce (and often frozen produce) is out of the question. While canned vegetables, dried beans and whole grains may be available; many of America’s poor don’t know what to do with these foods, or how to combine them into a satisfying meal. Processed snack foods are cheap and have extremely long shelf lives, making them attractive choices to people that suffer from hunger or food insecurity. Simply put, empty calories are much easier to come by.

Looking for more information on this topic? I highly recommend A Place at the Table, the new documentary film that came out about a month or two ago. The film explores problems of poverty and food security across America, and gives excellent examples of how obesity and hunger are so closely related. Another resource regarding the paradox of hunger and obesity is the book Stuffed and Starved, by Raj Patel. I haven’t read it yet, but it is definitely on my list. Lastly, here is a USDA interactive map to find food deserts in America.

Images via GristMagnolia Pictures

– Kelly

Top 10 Things You Need to Know about the Farm Bill

  1. What is the Farm Bill? Simply put, the Farm Bill is a piece of legislation that determines which foods will be plentiful and inexpensive. It gets reworked about every 4-7 years, the last one being passed in 2008. We were due for a new Farm Bill in 2012, but as people following the issue already know, the 2008 bill was left to expire.
  2. Where does Farm Bill money go? Contrary to popular belief, most of the Farm Bill money (73%) goes to nutrition programs, not subsidies for commodity crops (which only gets 14%). Additionally,  7% goes to crop insurance, 6% goes to conservation programs, while less than 1% supports exports and renewable energy investments and research.
  3. How does the Farm Bill help Americans? Most Farm Bill money goes to nutrition programs, the most notable program being SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). With more Americans than ever before (about 45 million, half of which are children) relying on nutrition assistance programs, any spending cut to this area would be devastating, causing hunger and public health problems across the country. At only about $1.50 per meal, SNAP benefits are meager enough already.
  4. Does the Farm Bill help family farmers? While many family farmer do rely on subsidies to stay afloat, 60% of farmers don’t get subsidies. Additionally, the richest 10% of subsidy recipients get almost 75% of the payments. So while many family farmers do rely on these payments, loopholes that allow large agribusinesses to collect the majority of the payments need to be closed.
  5. Who gets subsidies? Almost 70% of commodity subsidies go to just 5 crops: corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, and cotton. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are considered “specialty crops” and are largely ignored by Farm Bill policies. Commodity subsidies keep the building blocks of junk food (high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil) cheap, which in turn, keeps junk food cheap.
  6. What’s the deal with biofuels? Currently, 40% of our corn crop is being diverted away from food for human consumption to be used for biofuels (corn ethanol). Biofuels are meant to displace oil, so this could be good, right? Wrong. Currently,  ethanol output is displacing only 8% of gasoline. The same amount of gas could be displaced if we increased fleet wide fuel economy by just 1.1 MPG across the board! And if that weren’t enough, it takes at least 2/3 gallon of oil (gasoline) to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. That is ridiculous!
  7. Does the Farm Bill align with U.S. Dietary Guidelines? If Americans increased their fruit and vegetable consumption to meet the USDA dietary recommendations, the US would need an additional 13 million acres of these crops! That’s more than 3 times what we currently devote to fruit and vegetable production. Without research devoted to more efficient produce farming, or economic incentives such as subsidies, there is little motivation for farmers to grow fruits and vegetables. It simply isn’t profitable.
  8. Does the Farm Bill promote sustainable land use? Some of the biggest conservation programs for land and wildlife are actually funded through the Farm Bill, but conservation programs get only a small percentage of the budget. The financial risks of farming are so high, that farmers plant “fencerow to fencerow” regardless of what is needed, because it is the only way for them to stay afloat. More money should be put into conservation policies to help reward farmers that are good stewards of the land. Right now there is no incentive for them to farm sustainably, except for the Conservation Stewardship Program, which is severely underfunded (3/4 applications get rejected due to lack of funds).
  9. What issues should an ideal Farm Bill address? An ideal Farm Bill should better align crop subsidies with nutrition guidelines, and make all farmers meet certain conservation guidelines before being eligible to receive support. This means no more money for large CAFOs or soil degrading mono-croppers. An ideal Farm Bill should also incentivize sustainable methods such as pasture based agriculture and crop rotation, as well as devote more research to organics and produce production.
  10. What’s next for the Farm Bill? The January fiscal cliff bill included a 9 month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. This bill extends direct payments to farmers (unless a new Farm Bill is passed before October), protects against a spike in milk prices (the “dairy cliff”), and makes no major changes to SNAP. Unfortunately, the extension didn’t extend funding for organics, clean water initiatives, beginning farmer programs, or disaster assistance. However, the Farm Bill is facing budget cuts across the board in the aftermath of the sequestration. It is still unclear how the money will get allocated. Things are changing quickly, so now is the time to let your voice be heard.

Statistics mentioned above are sourced from Food Fight 2012: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, the video displayed below, as well as this article.

For those of you that would like to learn more:

  • To learn more about what the Farm Bill is and what programs it supports (or doesn’t), I highly recommend this 14 minute TEDxTalk from Ken Cook (President and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group) called “Turning the Farm Bill into a Food Bill”.
  • For a shorter video introduction, check out this 4 minute video slideshow from Food Fight 2012. While not as informative as the TEDxTalk, it is still a good place to start.
  • As far as reading materials go, I cannot recommend this book enough. In Food Fight 2012: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, author Daniel Imhoff breaks down the complexities of the bill in an easy to understand manner. The book is filled with colorful graphics and charts to help illustrate the various aspects of the bill. And best of all, Imhoff highlights the loopholes and problems of the Farm Bill, and offers sensible solutions and policy changes to improve it. This book is indispensable to anyone looking to learn more about the Farm Bill and make a difference in U.S. Food Policy.
  • For more information on how you can get involved in improving the next Farm Bill, see this page. Because the Farm Bill extensions expire in October, NOW is the time to get involved!

– Kelly

Food Policy: “Good Foods” vs “Bad Foods”

Going through school and training to become a Registered Dietitian, I was conditioned never to use the words “good food” or “bad food”, in fear that this might give someone an unhealthy relationship with food (becoming obsessive or orthorexic), and also to emphasize that all food can be incorporated into a healthy diet, so as not to turn people away. But if all food can be incorporated into a healthy diet, why can’t we just call it what it is? Junk food. This part of my schooling always bothered me, and after reading Marion Nestle’s Food Politics, I feel that this “no bad food” ideal permeated from a much higher level than from my instructors. Due to pressure from the food industry, the USDA is also conditioned not to identify “good foods” or “bad foods”, and I argue that this is where some of the dietary confusion in America comes into play.

The US Government attempts to provide the American public with trusted dietary information through the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the new MyPlate (formerly a food pyramid). As a nutrition professional, I think that MyPlate is a great teaching tool, and really opens eyes up to just how important fruits and vegetables are. The only time that I find MyPlate difficult to work with is when explaining breakfast, as vegetables are only easily incorporated into omelets, and don’t go well with other traditional breakfast foods such as cold cereal, pancakes, oatmeal, or fruit and yogurt. Making produce the star of the plate was a bold move by the USDA, and will hopefully change the way that Americans conceptualize their meals. This is a huge shift from the “meat and potatoes” culture of the past.

Marion Nestle points out in Food Politics that what research finds to be “healthy” (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) has not changed much at all over the last 50 years, so the fact that most Americans are confused about what to eat is evidence of a muddled system. It is difficult for the government to advise our obese population to “eat less”, when those are the very words that the industry forbids them from using. Nevertheless, I do think that MyPlate’s emphasis on produce is a step in the right direction.

Other culprits for confusing the American public are the food advertisers. Not only have advertisers taught us that junk foods are not “bad foods”, they succeed in highlighting the trendy nutrients that their products are fortified with, making them appear as healthful choices. Meanwhile, the real healthful choices, fresh fruits and vegetables, are excluded from high budget marketing campaigns and are left labeless on store shelves. In Food Fight, Dan Imhoff argues that this is in part due to the fact that fresh produce is considered a “specialty crop”, and does not receive the subsidies or technological advances that commodity crops such as corn and soy (the building blocks of junk food) are privy to.

Again working against the “eat less” mentality are the manufacturers of snack foods. In a post depression and food ration nation, the idea of going hungry between meals has become not only unpopular, but downright un-American. I agree with Cutler, Glaeser, and Shapiro, that snack foods are a driver in generating obesity. Michelle Obama’s 2009 remarks at the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. Conference were spot on, as she clarified to grocers that “it doesn’t mean is taking out one problematic ingredient, only to replace it with another… This isn’t about finding creative ways to market products as healthy… it’s about producing products that actually are healthy”. What she fails to mention is that the healthiest products have already been “formulated”, and they can be found in produce stands across the nation.

In short, I do not think it is the government’s place to “tell” people what to eat, as “telling” people what to eat implies lack of freedom, something that Americans are quite turned off by. Rather, I think it is the role of the government to provide American citizens with unbiased sources of dietary information based on the latest research, and to create a marketplace where healthy choices are just as easy to make (if not easier) than unhealthy choices.

Images via: Amazon//MyPlate//Amazon//Huffington Post

– Kelly

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: Food Policy and Food Systems

BU Gastronomy

I marched into the Gastronomy program with my eyes on the Food Policy concentration, so I was eager to begin the Food Policy and Food Systems class my very first semester (Fall 2012). Being an avid reader of Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and even Barbara Kingsolver, I am very interested in how basic principles of human nutrition can be applied when addressing the current challenges of the food industry.

Ellen MesserThe class was intimidating at first. Ellen Messer is a quirky and cheerful anthropologist with a wealth of knowledge on international food policy and human rights. She speaks quickly in a matter-of-fact manner, and sometimes passed out class outlines which were several pages long, single spaced, and in size 10 font. But that’s just the world of policy. Several pages long, single spaced, and size 10 font.

The topics covered in our course included the pro’s and con’s of biotechnology, the issue of world hunger, the external costs of meat consumption, monoculture vs. biodiversity, organics and integrated pest management, the role of NGO’s, eating patterns from around the world, obesity and nutrition, and the role of biofuels. Forget what you think you may know about GMO’s, world hunger, or organics. Our class looked at each issue from every angle imaginable. While I may not have a solution for world hunger, I am definitely a more educated consumer.

The focus was much more international than I had originally expected, and that was one of the main challenges. However, because globalization binds us so closely with other nations, it was interesting to see the consequences of our consumption patterns. The main project for this class was to research food policy issues of a foreign nation, including a staple crop and an export crop, as well as research how these factors influence the food security of the nation. We then presented our findings to our classmates in a panel.

Ultimately, I want to help make nutritious foods more accessible, and I believe that learning to navigate the agricultural and industrial concerns of the food industry is a great place to start. There are many complex issues regarding American agriculture and the subsidization of various foods, and it is my goal to further study these relationships (such as in Ellen Messer’s US Food Policy class, next semester) in order to brainstorm ways to help make food systems more conducive to healthy eating.

If you are at all interested in these issues, I highly recommend reading The End of Food, by Paul Roberts.

Image via Tufts

-Kelly