First of its Kind in San Diego — New Food Studies Minor Debuts in Fall 

Students helped spur the idea for a minor — they wanted to learn more about how food is interconnected with sociopolitical, health, economic, and environmental issues.

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Oaxaca market

Students learn about insects (chapulines) as a source of protein at a market in Oaxaca, Mexico during a study abroad program led by anthropology Professor Ramona Pérez. Photo credit: SDSU SOULA Project.

Students are passionate about food.

It all started 10 years ago when geography Professor Pascale Joassart-Marcelli, now the director of the food studies minor program, created a new GE course called Geography of Food. “Everybody was a little bit surprised by the course; 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; by the next year more than 100. And, the interest kept growing .

“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,” Joassart-Marcelli said. “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. “Food is such a huge aspect of sustainability — it contributes almost a third of greenhouse gas emission and it is a big driver of climate change. 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.”

Over the past several years, 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 dive into food studies. “We are now able to support their passion with an interdisciplinary minor.” Joassart-Marcelli said.

Ask student Blake Curl and he’ll tell you why he 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 for humanity found in food studies

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.

The food industry is one of the fastest growing in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in food-related businesses is projected to grow faster than most occupations.

In San Diego County alone, before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were approximately 160,000 jobs in food and agriculture in 2017, with 40,000 new jobs added since the 2008 recession. Despite recent setbacks, this sector is expected to recover and hopefully lead the way into a more sustainable, healthy, and equitable food economy.

The San Diego region is home to over 6,000 small farms, a vibrant food culture, an evolving local food movement, and established food-centered organizations, reflecting growing interest in food among policy-makers, residents, and students alike.

The food studies minor is a flexible and customizable program that provides students with critical skills and analytical tools. It complements many majors, whether in the humanities, arts, business, or social, health, and environmental sciences. It allows students to branch out into other disciplines to expand their knowledge, follow their passion, and specialize in the study of food.

“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.

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