The University’s Sustainable Food Systems Initiative hosted 10 bite-sized talks Tuesday night on topics related to food and agriculture.

The second annual “Fast Food for Thought” talk brought together nine faculty members from several University departments, with the 10th “talk” formatted as a Q&A session. Each of the speakers was given five minutes to address a broad range of global and local food topics, including sustainability, potential connections between food and politics and the growing problem of herbicide resistance. The UM SFI encourages University students and faculty members to learn about and promote food systems that are beneficial to both the environment and economy.

More than 200 attendees filled the lecture hall in the Dana Building. Thomas Princen, associate professor of natural resource and environmental policy, started off the event by asking, “Why food, why now?” In his talk, he briefly explained his six hypotheses for why American interest in food has skyrocketed in the past few years.

Among them: the “brains and hands” hypothesis. What distinguishes humans from other animals, Princen said, is the ability to combine experiences both tactile and intellectual. He said because food engages humans both with their brains and with their hands, people connect with food.

“Just think about what you have to know to grow a crop, the land, the weather, the markets,” he said. “A lot of that knowledge is not from food study or data it is from the very feel of the land. Maybe the increased interest in food that we feel more human when we engage with food.”

University Lecturer Margot Finn discussed the connection between fast food and social class. During the talk, she cited statistics to debunk the association between poverty and fast food.

“The 2013 Gallup Poll that found that American households with annual income of over $50,000 a year were more likely to say they eat fast food on a weekly basis than lower-income groups,” Finn said. “Fast food consumption increases along with income, peaking in the $60- to $70-thousand-dollar bracket.”

She went on to discuss how families with lower incomes are more likely to make meals from scratch, as prepared and restaurant meals are often out of their budgets.

“One reason for the association between the poor and fast food is because people believe that eating fast food makes you fat, and poor people are strongly associated with fatness, and the other stigmatized characteristics that go along with it like ignorance, laziness, apathy and lack of willpower,” Finn said.

After the event, LSA junior Lia Parks said she didn’t realize how important food was in American culture.  

“I never realized how food and sustainability were so intermeshed in culture, and that we need to rethink the way we do and think about things,” Parks said.

The article has been updated with an attendance tally from the event organizers.

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