“Think globally, act locally” is a food movement mantra that’s getting reimagined courtesy of the University of California.
This morning UC president Janet Napolitano announced a new Global Food Initiative intended to coalesce resources across the UC system to address universal challenges related to food. Think food security, sustainability, hunger, malnutrition, and obesity for starters. The effort will extend throughout the university’s research, outreach, operations, curriculum, and policy arms.
Napolitano chose to announce the new initiative first in Berkeley, with stops later today in Sacramento and Los Angeles. Napolitano described the new initiative as an “audacious” plan that would harness the university’s “laser focus” around a pressing problem on the local, state, national and worldwide stage: feeding a hungry planet well.
The announcement took place not, as one might expect, on the Cal campus. Instead, today’s press event was held at the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, home to Alice Waters‘ well-known cooking and gardening program, under the Edible Schoolyard Project umbrella. Napolitano noted that she chose the venue to signal her intention to partner with key players in the food and agriculture community beyond the campus environment.
Waters introduced Napolitano, saying “I’m putting all my eggs in her basket,” as she ceremoniously handed the UC president a basket of fresh eggs from the garden’s chicken coop.
Waters’ love affair with the perfect peach has been well documented. Given that, and the season, it wasn’t surprising to see the first of Mas Masumoto‘s legendary stone fruit also on display today, a nod to Waters’ continuing efforts to champion small-scale, sustainable farmers, who may well have a larger role as campus suppliers in light of today’s announcement.
A UC alum who fondly recalls her idealistic 1960s student days, Waters has in recent years stepped up her involvement with her alma mater. In 2011, in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of her Chez Panisse Restaurant and Cafe, she launched Edible Education 101, a for-credit lecture series at UC Berkeley for undergraduate students that has also welcomed the public.
The most recent semester, co-taught by Cal journalism professor Michael Pollan and author slash activist slash academic Raj Patel, addressed many of the food issues of our times. A slew of high-profile food movement academics, activists, and authors have lectured on such topics as fair wages and working conditions for farm workers, the health dangers of the industrial food supply, and the damage caused to human, animal, and environmental health by factory farmed meat.
Waters, who told BAB she’s been tasked by Napolitano to head up the Global Food Initiative’s subcomittee on procurement, foreshadowed today’s announcement back in March during an Edible Education lecture.
Waters told that audience that she hosted a meeting with Napolitano and campus chancellors at Chez Panisse in January this year. Presumably over a local, organic, and sustainable meal, the university academics and the good food advocate started tackling tough questions like: How do we sustainably and nutritiously feed a world whose population is expected to reach eight billion by 2025? The seeds of the Global Food Initiative grew from that gathering.
The ambitious initiative, with only broad stroke details available for now, is intended to develop best practices systemwide, expand experiential learning through demonstration gardens, leverage food purchasing power with an eye to sustainable farming practices, and integrate more food-related studies into student curriculum.
UC is well placed to kick off such a program, said Napolitano, due to its position as a world-class public research university, its land-grant university status and agricultural expertise, and its leadership capabilities and community outreach around food matters.
That’s the big picture plan. And, of course, UC is already a powerhouse globally on sustainability, food, and farming. It has been an innovator in terms of agriculture issues related to soil, water, strawberries, citrus and rice, to name just a few areas of groundbreaking research and development.
On the local level, UC has been on the cutting edge of food movement innovation for some time.
UCB created the Berkeley Food Institute, a multidisciplinary coalition including the College of Natural Resources, the Goldman School of Public Policy, the Graduate School of Journalism and the School of Public Health. That institute is engaged in research around pest control, conservation, and food safety on Central Coast farms. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab developed a cookstove system for displaced persons in Darfur dealing with food insecurity.
Then there’s the food consumed on campus. Cal was recently named among the top 25 universities in terms of doling out nutritious, green grub (UCLA and Davis also made the cut).
Cal Dining halls boast a wealth of sustainable practices and policies that one might expect would warm Waters’ heart. Consider 100% organic salad bars, sustainable seafood, and organic milk, eggs and tofu. According to Cal Dining executive director Shawn LaPean, his is the only campus program in the country buying organic eggs. While 75% of the entrees are vegetarian on campus, hamburgers are made with sustainably-raised Niman Ranch beef and chickens comes from Pitman Family Farms, purveyors of Mary’s free-range, pasture-raised chickens. An estimated 33% of campus food is locally sourced.
Cal also has green-certified dining buildings, a reuse to-go box program, and is working towards a zero waste system by 2020. It has partnered with programs such as Feeding Forward, co-founded by another UC alum, designed to eliminate waste and feed the hungry.
What more could it do? LaPean would like to see campus cooking infrastructure improved and updated so the university could produce more foods on site rather than purchasing from manufacturers. Take the humble chicken strip, which Cal currently buys off campus. With improved food production facilities such items could easily be made on campus, as they are at UCLA’s state-of-the-art food production facilities. Of course, such projects require significant capital.
Feeding students is a high volume undertaking. Cal serves over 30,000 daily during the academic year, about five million meals annually. “We find a way to do these initiatives in-house and within our usual budget,” according to LaPean, who has run the service for 11 years.”We just keep trying to find better foods at more cost effective pricing.”
LaPean was not at today’s news conference and in an email noted he had missed the first few meetings regarding the initiative due to schedule conflicts. “The UC system already has a sustainability policy that covers procurement,” he wrote, “and this new one will simply take UC food services to the next level.”
For her part, Waters said the current Cal Dining experience “is a long way” from what she imagines campus dining could look like. “We have to be the change we want to make. It won’t be a high-end restaurant like Chez Panisse but an affordable restaurant on campus that could be a model” for other campuses.
Waters also hopes to find ways for universities and K-12 programs to work together to source quality food for students. Napolitano, she said, understands the importance of nourishing future university students from an early age.
Where’s the money coming from for these ambitious undertakings? Waters said that discussions are underway with wealthy potential funding partners from the tech world–she named both Google and Apple–to secure seed money for such an effort. Napolitano pointed to potential financial backing for research from the federal Department of Agriculture via the Farm Bill.
This afternoon plans call for Napolitano to conclude her series of events at the student-run garden on the UCLA campus, home to the Healthy Campus Initiative, which was supported by private philanthropy.
For now, the only concrete discussion of funding revolved around the announcement by Napolitano of three $2,500 President’s Global Food Initiative Student Fellowships to be awarded on each campus to undergraduate or graduate students working on research projects related to this field of study.
But given the scale of the undertaking outlined here, further news on both the programmatic and fundraising front are likely to emerge soon.
Watch the entire announcement:
Video by Wendy Goodfriend
Listen to an interview with UC President Janet Napolitano about the UC Global Food Initiative
on The California Report.