Nosh Pit

The Nosh Pit: UOP wants to school you in food

Professor Ken Albala serves as program director for a new food studies master’s degree offered at the University of the Pacific’s San Francisco campus.
Professor Ken Albala serves as program director for a new food studies master’s degree offered at the University of the Pacific’s San Francisco campus. Randall Gee

Think of them as the faculty of farm to fork. As food becomes even more of a key conversation in Sacramento and around Northern California, local academic institutions are adding more food-related classes to their course schedules.

The latest school to beef up its offerings is the University of the Pacific, which will launch a master’s program in food studies this fall. The curriculum includes the study of recipes from ancient Greece, food-related literature and sociology, plus a healthy serving of contemporary food politics. The goal for UOP’s food studies curriculum is to groom the next generation of food policymakers, journalists, marketers and more.

This advanced degree at UOP takes a humanities-based approach to food studies. It’s far from traditional culinary schools that teach newbie chefs about the applications of French “mother” sauces and pastry techniques. This UOP degree also differs from much of the coursework found at UC Davis, through its Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and other departments, which includes research vineyards overseen by students and faculty and the study of pathogens related to foodborne illness.

Ken Albala, a longtime history professor at UOP, serves as program director for this new advanced-degree opportunity, which soon will welcome its first crop of students. Albala already incorporates food history into his teaching with UOP students in Stockton, including “A Global History of Food” and a seminar titled “What Is Good Food?”

Albala’s also the author of numerous food-related books, including “Food in Early Modern Europe,” “Beans: A History” and “The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance Europe.” Albala says he cooked up the idea for this master’s degree program over the past decade.

“This is my baby,” he said. “With the new administration (at UOP), the new dean and a new building, all the pieces seem to have come together.”

That new building is located in San Francisco’s trendy South of Market neighborhood instead of UOP’s flagship Stockton campus, which was established in 1923. This $151 million satellite campus in San Francisco will also host programs in dentistry, data analytics and audiology.

The San Francisco location marks the third campus for UOP, which is also known for its school of dentistry and its Brubeck Institute, a jazz program established in honor of Dave Brubeck, the legendary musician and UOP alum. UOP’s McGeorge School of Law is situated in south Sacramento. (The school also has been negotiating with Drexel University to take over some of its graduate programs in Sacramento after Drexel leaves the region.)

“(The Stockton campus) has a very Ivy League feeling to it,” Albala said. “The campus in San Francisco is the complete opposite with big glass walls and huge ceilings.”

UC Davis is meanwhile upping its academic game in terms of food. The school’s long been a leader with its studies of agriculture, animals and the science of wine production. Coming next: a third campus with its World Food Center.

A location has yet to be established, but the downtown railyard is being eyed as a possibility. The Innovation Institute for Food and Health was launched in January, which operates under the World Food Center and was funded with $40 million from Mars, the candy bar company behind 3 Musketeers, M&M’s and other popular sweets. The institute will focus on food safety, sustainable agriculture and other issues.

Back at UOP, Albala is preparing for the first 20 or so graduate students who will join the program in the fall. Classes can be taken either at the S.F. campus or online.

Albala, who also teaches online classes on food and alcohol history for Boston University, hopes UOP’s burgeoning food studies will hold its own with other established programs around the country. He’ll incorporate elements of his undergraduate food history coursework, which includes studying recipes from as far back as 300 B.C., and examine current issues of food in contemporary politics and culture.

“The idea is to give (the students) skills in critical thinking, methodology and writing that will apply to the food business,” Albala said. “There’s other food studies programs on the East Coast, and they have a lot of numbers, but once we get well known, I think more people will apply.”

Albala hopes that graduates of the two-year program will be among the new thought leaders of the 21st century. “Food studies (programs) have generally been critical of the food industry,” Albala said. “I hope (these students) will infiltrate the industry and become good thinkers. This next generation of people who are experts in food will come about it differently.”

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.