‘Eats 101’ Course to Feed Sustainability Venture
One of UNC’s most innovative courses, an honors seminar about food and culture, will soon link up with UNC’s new Global Research Institute, and, in so doing, create the cornerstone for the Institute’s program in Food, Agriculture and Sustainable Development (FASD).
The Global Research Institute, which was launched in March 2010, hosts research fellows from within and outside the university to work on key international problems. The principal theme at the Global Research Institute for 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 is entitled “Globalization, the Economic Crisis, and the Future of North Carolina.” Fellows will explore various aspects of the above topic and disseminate their research findings in a variety of ways to scholars and the general public.
In addition to hosting funded research fellows, the Global Research Institute is promoting and sponsoring several other programs and initiatives relating to important global themes, including the FASD program.
This program is envisioned as one in which members of the university community (and the community at large) can explore an array of themes relating to food, agriculture and sustainable development, themes which are likely to rank among the most pressing of the 21st century. One of the central organizing principles behind the FASD program is that it will be broad in mission, incorporating research, teaching, and service/outreach activities.
One of the plans of the new program is to include the students of the legendary undergraduate course “Eats 101,” formally known as Honors 352. Undergraduates in this advanced seminar pursue intensive interdisciplinary study of a range of local, national and international food issues – all of which will contribute to the teaching dimension of FASD.
Dr. James Ferguson, who teaches in the history department and developed the class 13 years ago and has taught it ever since, said the course is designed to be interactive and interdisciplinary. Instead of progressing in a chronological or linear fashion, Ferguson said the course requires students to explore 10-12 topics simultaneously.
“I’m deliberately trying to avoid a single focus,” Ferguson said of the course topics, which include the relationship of food to history, policy and economics, among other things. “The students are exposed to many disciplines.”
Students also learn outside the traditional classroom setting through field trips to groceries, markets, farms, restaurants, a commercial bakery and a coffee roaster – not only in Chapel Hill but across the state. When class is held at UNC, Ferguson is often assisted by professors in other, non-food specific departments from UNC as well as other universities throughout the country.
“One of the things we want to do is to keep it very academic but bring in local restaurants and farmers,” said Samantha Buckner ‘08, a former “Eats 101” student and one of the teaching assistants for the course.
Students and instructors also prepare (and share) weekly meals as part of the course curriculum, with the preparation and consumption of food considered essential to learning about the issues covered in class.
“They learn as much at meals as they do in the classroom,” Buckner said, but both she and Ferguson strongly state that it is not intended to be a cooking class.
A highlight of the course is a trip to France directly after class ends in May. Students spend one week traveling the country, studying the ways in which community is built and sustained in the food history and culture of France, experiencing production and preparation of food in French monastic settings, on farms and in professional kitchens.
“They gain a really rich experience,” Buckner said, which is to understate things.
Collaboration with Global Research Institute
The FASD curriculum will be incorporated into the Global Research Institute, with Ferguson leading the program and “Eats 101” serving as the teaching cornerstone.
Ferguson considers food, broadly conceived, to be a way into numerous other issues, as it is closely linked to questions relating to economic development, environmental issues, trade questions, and nutritional/ medical concerns.
One of UNC’s major goals, according to Ferguson, is to develop creative approaches to issues like these – and “Eats 101” and the FASD program more generally can contribute to this end.
Students in “Eats 101” do a tremendous amount of reading and writing on food-related topics, participate in a lively weekly seminar, and work together on various group projects.
Sustainability is explored in the class through an additional credit hour (apart from the Tuesday night class) led by teaching assistant Lauren Wilson, UNC’s first Food Studies major.
All students in “Eats 101” research and write lengthy term papers on food-related topics of their choice choosing, which they work on throughout the semester. Past examples, Ferguson said, include examinations of possible causes of the current obesity epidemic; global economics and policy considerations in the coffee trade; cross-cultural political, nutritional, and economic issues concerning breastfeeding.
Undergraduate students “do fabulous research,” Ferguson said, noting that the class is more like an intense graduate seminar. Students are also required to read and analyze the work completed by students in earlier years.
Ferguson expects the collaboration with the Global Research Institute to further enhance the students’ research and commitment and allow students to share their work more broadly – both within the university and beyond.
“We’ve got talent like a volcano – they have no outlet now,” Ferguson said. “And the FASD association will offer new opportunities to display these talents to a wider audience.”
The FASD initiative will provide such an outlet, through research and outreach opportunities, sustainability workshops, seminars, film screenings and lectures. There is also the possibility of a future research group among faculty to supervise the creation of additional food courses and to encourage individual student research on food through honors theses.
“Food, agriculture and sustainable development are likely to be among the most important global/local issues of the 21st century,” said Global Research Institute director Peter Coclanis. “UNC has lots of strengths and resources in these areas, but they aren’t bundled as effectively as they might be.”
Coclanis said the goal of the program is to reorganize the already strong resources at the university into a space in which any interested party – including students, faculty and community members – can share what they know about food and sustainability.
“We’re very excited about FASD, and believe it will help us to leverage ‘Eats 101’ and other UNC resources so as to render us even stronger and more visible on issues in this domain,” Coclanis said.