The Berkeley Food Institute, a newly formed campus group that seeks to comprehensively address food issues through interdisciplinary study, co-sponsored its second event this Monday, bringing together about 35 students, faculty and community members for a presentation and reception with, of course, food.
The ensuing discussions contribute to the Berkeley Food Institute’s goal of improving health, resilience, diversity and justice in food production and consumption by combining research from different disciplines.
“Of course that’s ambitious and in a way idealistic, but it’s something that were working towards,” said L. Ann Thrupp, BFI’s executive director. “Sustainable food systems is what we’re all about.”
BFI arranges for visiting professors to teach at Berkeley, sponsors new courses and holds events such as the one on Monday. It will soon start funding research aimed toward real-world change.
“To make change in the food system, it’s very difficult to do isolated research in one discipline or another,” Thrupp said. “It really does take many minds and many efforts.”
To achieve the necessary level of cooperation, BFI brings together five schools at UC Berkeley — the Goldman School of Public Policy, the Graduate School of Journalism, Berkeley Law, The College of Natural Resources and the School of Public Health.
The Berkeley Food Institute was born this fall out of growing student interest in sustainable food and agriculture. An organic student garden on Oxford Street has seen its membership swell each year, and students flock whenever food-related courses are offered, according to Alastair Iles, a BFI faculty director and campus professor.
BFI has been aided by substantial private contributions. Bob Epstein, a key donor to the group, asked the faculty directors to “dream big.” Iles said that other private donor contributions and some help from Vice Chancellor for Research Graham Fleming, brought the BFI budget to about $400,000, which may continue to grow.
“Our fundraising strategy is based on assuming that the funds we receive are from people or entities that share our values,” he said.
BFI also will help bring former U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan to participate in a discussion called “What’s Next for the Food Movement,” in Wheeler Auditorium on Nov. 14. Michael Pollan, an author and professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, will moderate.
The creation of BFI represents a renewed interest in and emphasis on agriculture and food at Berkeley, which had dwindled since Berkeley served as California’s premier agricultural school in the first half of the 20th century, according to Iles.
“UC Berkeley had abandoned its land grant history … which is shameful at a time when we need sustainable agriculture,” he said.