Food to become a major focus at all UC campuses, UC president says

An emphasis on food issues will become an intensifying focus among all 10 University of California campuses and its agricultural outreach and public service programs, UC President Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday.

Dubbed the UC Global Food Initiative, the effort will be wide-ranging – from addressing worldwide food security issues to examining meals served at local schools.

The announcement revealed Napolitano’s interest in bringing the UC system’s scientific, technical and intellectual capabilities to help solve food issues.

“We do a lot, but we can do more,” said Napolitano at the Sacramento offices of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, or CDFA.

“Keep in mind that the issue of food is not just about what we eat – it’s about delivery issues. It’s about climate change and population growth policy,” Napolitano said. “All of these come into play when you begin to think about the colliding forces that shape the world in the future.”

UC Davis will likely play a big role in the initiative. A hint of what kind of role it will take was revealed a year ago when UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi announced the creation of the World Food Center. Katehi said the center will bring 26 institutes together at UC Davis – and is expected to turn the campus into a nexus for food research, policy and new technology.

Napolitano, who has led the UC system since September, said she expects all UC chancellors to work together on the Global Food initiative – and that she expects disparate departments at each UC system campus, such as humanities and law, to be a part of the effort.

“It has come to my attention that some of the most exciting research happens when multiple disciplines come together around a single research topic,” she said.

The multidisciplinary approach was well received by some of the CDFA board who listened to Napolitano’s announcement.

“In Latin America you see so many engineers and so many students working in the farming world, working on farms as a business,” said Martha Montoya, CDFA board member.

“Here we don’t get them, we tend to lose them,” Montoya said.

Napolitano stressed that student involvement would be key to the initiative’ success. To that end, Napolitano announced a first step – the funding of three $2,500 President’s Global Food Initiative Student Fellowships that will be awarded on each UC campus, to either undergraduate or graduate students. The fellowships will fund research projects or internships.

“We consider this seed money as we begin our work with the initiative,” Napolitano said.

She also said food issues will be integrated into undergraduate and graduate courses and that there will be more food-related courses developed at each campus. Other efforts, such as demonstration gardens, will exist at each campus, with the gardens increasing opportunities for students to participate in experiential learning.

“With our food purchasing power we will encourage sustainable farming practices and serve nutritious fare in our dining halls,” Napolitano said.

That part of the initiative will be accomplished by exporting the food pantry and farmers market models at some UC campuses, including UC Davis, to all universities systemwide.

Partnerships with K-12 school districts will also be engendered, Napolitano said.

Napolitano said the initiative is a local – and global – effort.

“One billion additional people will live on this already stressed planet,” Napolitano said. “Most are in the developing world and suffer from chronic hunger or serious micro-nutrient deficiency.”

The initiative was spurred by a dinner conversation at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, attended by Napolitano and UC chancellors, on the quality of student food.

“We discussed research, and what campuses were doing … and as we began to peel the onion, we began to see how we can take the power of this university and unite it,” she said.