Napolitano announces UC initiative to address food issues

Cesar Ruiz/Staff
Alice Waters hands UC President Janet Napolitano a symbolic basket with eggs in it

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UC President Janet Napolitano announced the launch of the UC Global Food Initiative on Tuesday morning, detailing the UC system’s plan to expand food education, maximize sustainable farming practices and reduce hunger at the university, national and global levels.

Napolitano and the 10 UC campus chancellors aim to critically examine ways the university can provide affordable access to nutritious food for students and conduct research on food sustainability. Napolitano noted that an additional 1 billion people will join the world’s population by 2025, while 1 billion people already suffer from hunger.

Alongside the goal of promoting sustainable and healthy solutions to address the global hunger crisis, Napolitano said in an interview with The Daily Californian, she also hopes to combat obesity and chronic malnutrition through the initiative.

“It is a commitment to apply a laser focus on what we can do as a public university — in one of the most robust agricultural regions in the world — to take on one of the world’s most pressing issues,” Napolitano said during a press conference at the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley.

The initiative aims to address problems of food affordability for students by potentially creating more food pantries on campus, like the UC Berkeley Food Pantry and the Bear Pantry, which is accessible to low-income UC Berkeley student-parents, to combat hunger and facilitate research on food sustainability.

The general principles of the initiative seem to be aligned with the principles of the Berkeley Student Food Collective, though how the initiative’s principles will be executed is still uncertain, said Jeff Noven, former education director of the collective.

As part of the initiative, students across the UC system will be able to take advantage of three competitive student fellowships on each campus — worth $2,500 each — through the president’s Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Program, according to Ann Thrupp, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute, a center on campus that addresses food issues through interdisciplinary study. Students across scientific and humanities-based disciplines will be able to conduct research on food sustainability.

“There are brilliant people in all departments, and we all need to understand that we need to eat with intention,” said Alice Waters, founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project and Chez Panisse, who has worked closely with Napolitano for the initiative.

According to Waters, the idea for the Global Food Initiative arose from a dinner at Chez Panisse, Waters’ Berkeley restaurant. A year and a half ago, when the UC Board of Regents were having dinner at the restaurant, Napolitano suggested creating a food initiative and subsequently drafted a compact of sustainability — which all the regents then signed — on top of a menu.

Though unrelated to the initiative, the campus may soon offer a food systems and sustainability minor, according to Thrupp. The minor is in development at UC Berkeley and may be available within the next several years. The development of a food systems major could follow in the future, she added.

“The UC system has the power to change the economy of the state and an economy that will change the world,” Waters said. “It’s like having a big megaphone.”

Contact Natalie Meier and Lydia Tuan at [email protected].

A previous version of this article stated that the projected initiation of the minor would be spring 2015. The minor may be started in spring 2015 or in the following fall or spring.

A previous version of this article also stated that the development of a food systems major is very likely to follow in the future. However, there are no current plans in place to develop the major.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the food systems and sustainability minor would be part of the initiative. In fact, the two are separate programs.