Posts Tagged: Mark Bittman
Edible Education course draws a crowd
Not just what we eat, but also how food is produced and its impacts on the economy, health and the environment. How the food system has been transformed, why it matters and what we can do about it.
“People care about food,” said opening lecturer Michael Pollan, author and UC Berkeley journalism professor. “I think food is a very powerful teaching tool.”
Pollan and Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters, a UC Berkeley alumna who founded the Edible Schoolyard Project, started Edible Education in 2011 as a way to bring food education to undergraduate students. This semester's course — which is co-hosted by New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman and poet Robert Hass — has an added dimension: Lectures are being live streamed to the public. The opening lecture has received more than 7,000 views so far. Upcoming guest speakers will include Marion Nestle, Eric Schlosser and Raj Patel.
“We're a public university,” said course instructor Garrison Sposito, a renowned UC Berkeley soil scientist. “Let's reach the public. How can we do that in today's world? Let's do that by technology.”
As part of the UC Global Food Initiative, UC Berkeley also hopes to offer Edible Education as an online course available for credit to students throughout the UC system, said David Chai, special adviser to UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.
Edible Education is presented by the Edible Schoolyard Project, Berkeley Food Institute, UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources and UC Global Food Initiative with support from the UC Berkeley Chancellor's Office and the Epstein/Roth Foundation.
Advancing food studies
“If you look at the lineup of speakers, it's pretty impressive,” said Bittman, who is a distinguished visiting fellow this spring at the Berkeley Food Institute. “I think the results will be fantastic.”
Having the support of UC President Janet Napolitano and the Global Food Initiative adds credibility to the study of food, said Nestle, a food studies, nutrition and public health expert who will deliver the next Edible Education lecture at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 2.
Nestle, a New York University professor with a visiting appointment at UC Berkeley's journalism school, recalled having to convince NYU's administration in 1996 that food studies was a suitable academic pursuit. “We were it at the time,” Nestle said. “Now everybody's doing it. It's very exciting.”
Hass, a UC Berkeley professor of English and former U.S. poet laureate who has taught an environmental studies course with Sposito, said that when they invited Pollan to speak nearly two decades ago, “you could see the way students were engaged. Immediately, they could connect.” Today's students are even more sophisticated, Hass said.
“It's important that we all become more aware of what the food industry is doing — I can't walk by without someone eating a hamburger,” UC Berkeley sophomore Audrey Nguyen said. “We can't sacrifice our health for convenience.”
Pollan said there is a place for meat but he encouraged people to eat less of it and said he would like to see changes in how animals are raised. During his lecture, “A Brief History of the Modern Food System,” he noted a rapid transformation into an oil-dependent food chain. He demonstrated his point by placing a McDonald's hamburger on a table with four glasses, into which he poured a dark liquid (chocolate syrup) meant to represent oil.
“(It takes) 26 ounces of oil to produce one double quarter pounder with cheese,” Pollan said. “We're eating a lot of oil.”
Upcoming Edible Education lectures will further explore the rise and future of the food movement.
- Edible Education (includes link to watch lectures live)
- Food luminaries to light up spring semester
- Mark Bittman's menu to include UC Berkeley
- Food education streams into the spotlight
- UC Global Food Initiative
Beyond manifesto: How to change the food system
Mark Bittman, cookbook author and New York Times food writer, used the occasion of New Year’s Day to throw down the gauntlet for real and permanent change to the U.S. agricultural system. “We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system,” he says in a Times opinion column. He likens the scale of the task to tectonic cultural strides like abolition, civil rights, and the women’s vote.
UC Berkeley researchers have been working on some specifics for several years now, researching the agricultural, policy, and social practices that would make possible the type of systemic change Bittman is advocating. In a special multi-article feature devoted to "diversified farming systems," or DFS, for the December issue of the journal Ecology & Society, scientists from Berkeley, Santa Clara University, and other institutions lay out a comprehensive scientific case that biologically diversified agricultural practices can contribute substantially to food production while creating far fewer environmental harms than industrialized, conventional monoculture agriculture—that is, large swaths of land devoted to growing single crops using chemical inputs.
DFS are different from the narrow definition of organics, and the research shows that, unlike industrial agriculture, biologically diversified agriculture tends to generate and regenerate ecosystem services such as soil fertility, pest and disease control, water-use efficiency, and pollination, which provide critical inputs to agriculture. The research also found that DFS support globally important ecosystem services, including substantially greater biodiversity, carbon sequestration, energy-use efficiency, and resilience to climate change.
But changing America’s agriculture system is more complex than just changing farming techniques, according to Alastair Iles, assistant professor of environmental science, policy, and management, and co-director of the Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems.
In one Ecology & Society article, Iles and co-author Robin Marsh, also of UC Berkeley, consider several obstacles that prevent or slow the spread of diversified farming practices, such as the broader political and economic context of industrialized agriculture, the erosion of farmer knowledge and capacity, and supply chain and marketing conditions that limit the ability of farmers to adopt sustainable practices.
“To transform agriculture, we need to understand these obstacles and develop and test solutions, such as peer-to-peer learning, recruitment and retention of new farmers through access to credit and land, and compensation for ecological services provided by ranchers, for example,” Iles says.
Other key facets of a sustainable agricultural system include attention to its social dimensions, such as human health, labor, democratic participation, resiliency, diversity, equality, and ethics, according to special issue co-editor Chris Bacon of Santa Clara University. In an article with colleagues, Bacon proposes creating partnerships with institutions that could address issues like immigration, food access, and worker health.
But first and foremost, the farms themselves have to produce enough to remain profitable and to feed a growing population. Conservation biologist Claire Kremen, also a UC Berkeley professor and co-director of the Berkeley DFS Center with Iles, says that more work is needed to build on what is already known about biologically diversified agriculture, to make them these methods even more productive.
“To date, the amount of research and development investment in this type of agriculture is miniscule compared to what’s been invested in conventional agriculture,” Kremen said. “There may be substantial potential to increase food production from biologically diversified, sustainable agriculture that we have not yet tapped into. With research support to study and improve on sustainable farming systems, we can tap that potential. Growers want to utilize sustainable practices if they can, but they need to know it won’t hurt their bottom line.”
So, DFS scientists might argue, Bittman’s New Year’s manifesto, which ends with a call for “energy, action — and patience,” could be amended to include “a comprehensive scientific, political, and sociological approach, and putting dollars behind the right kinds of research.”
Read more about diversified farming systems research at UC Berkeley.