Food sustainability course brings in high profile speakers in a University-community partnership

Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - 4:58pm

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Design by Christine Montalbano

Food Literacy for All, a new University of Michigan course that focuses on the global food system, is being offered for the third time this semester. The lecture series is open to University students for credit and is free for community members. Acclaimed guest speakers will present on topics including obesity, climate change, food capitalism and breastfeeding.

Lesli Hoey, assistant professor of urban and regional planning, leads the course with Jerry Ann Hebron, director at Oakland Avenue Urban Farm and Lilly Fink Shapiro, program manager of the UM Sustainable Food Systems Initiative.

Shapiro said in an email she was inspired to create Food Literacy for All after attending a lecture on food sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012.  

“That exposure helped lead me to pursue graduate school at the University of Michigan to formally study sustainable food systems,” Shapiro said. “Since 2013, I’ve worked with SFSI faculty to launch a similar course here at the University of Michigan.”

The list of eight guest speakers features Christopher Gardner, professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center; Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE and environmental justice activist; and Dara Cooper, co-founder of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance.

Initially, the University partnered with the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network in 2017, and brought on the Detroit Food Policy Council last year. The University extended the partnership to include FoodLab Detroit this year to expand the course’s outreach. Winona Bynum, executive director of Detroit Food Policy Council, said in an email she wanted to collaborate with the University on Food Literacy for All because of how the community-academic dynamic played into the course.

“I loved the concept of providing an opportunity for community members and students to share in a rich learning experience,” Bynum said.

To encourage community leaders and members to attend, free shuttles will be offered from Detroit to the lectures all semester.

According to Bynum, the goal of the course is to provide attendees with a more holistic view of the global food system.

“It shows the interconnectedness of disciplines — nutrition, environment, public health, policy, business, finance etc.,” Bynum said. “It demonstrates what impacts our everyday actions have and ways we can help to shape the food system in positive ways using different approaches and lenses.”

Food Literacy for All also aims to provide students with the tools needed to apply the information they learned in the real world. Shapiro said the range of guest speakers who work in the field and on the ground gives attendees an interdisciplinary view of global food systems, enabling them to take action in many different forms.

“By bringing together a diverse group of food systems leaders each week, Food Literacy for All provides an overview of interconnected and wide-ranging food system issues,” Shapiro said. “Undergraduate and graduate students and community attendees learn from experts… For some attendees, one class may serve as a kind of ‘gateway’ into a whole world of organizations, literature, and activism. For others, the course may change how they buy groceries, cook, vote or garden.”

LSA sophomore Elana Weberman said in an email Food Literacy for All is the “most innovative course” she had taken at the University. She said the course motivated her to take steps to reduce food waste at the University.

I was inspired to begin sustainability initiatives to reduce food waste by co-developing a framework, at Michigan, to distribute quality food to students that would otherwise be thrown away,” Weberman said.

Taubman graduate student Nick Schrader said the interdisciplinary aspect of the course appeals to him. Schrader said in an email he learned a great deal about how food systems are connected to the world on a larger scale.

“This was an eye-opener class for me,” Schrader said. “It might not have pertained to my major, but that did not matter because everyone who spoke - professor, guests, and students - all had something deep and meaningful to say… Food Literacy for All is the world you live in and I believe you should have some insight on how it all works and comes together.”