Proposal for Multi Campus Research Program
[UC Davis, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles]
Studies of Food and the Body
April 9, 2009
Director/PI: Carolyn de la Peña, Director, UC Davis Humanities Institute and Associate Professor, American Studies
The Studies of Food and the Body MRG was funded in November 2007 for three years (through 2010). We currently have thirty active members (roughly half graduate students and half faculty) across five UC campuses. With this proposal we are requesting to continue as an MRP for three years of funding (July 1, 2009 to July 1, 2012).
Interest in food and the body among members of the general public has outpaced our ability within the university to generate scholarship that addresses the complex nexus of agriculture, human health, and culture.
Growing concerns about food and the body are evident in the array of popular published works ranging from historical explorations of individual commodities (Salt, Bananas) as keys to understanding modern life, to muckraking exposes of current food production practices (Fast Food Nation), to critiques of nutrition science that fuel contemporary anxieties about food choice (What to Eat). Interest in the study of the cultural and social dimensions of food and the body is burgeoning in the academy, as well. Yet institutionally, the academy can hardly keep apace in scope and content. The existing academic journals have huge backlogs of food-related publications, and existing “food scholars” are swamped with requests for public comment and scholarly expertise. Despite the addition of food-related courses on university campuses, they are still too few, as students and potential students are demanding courses and degree programs beyond current capacity to deliver them. For instance, at UCSC during the first week of class in Spring 2009, an anthropology course on food attracted 150 students for an enrollment capacity of seventy.
While there is a clear unmet need to offer courses and programs in the area of food studies, it is not well served by existing disciplines. As a topical concern, the study of food must be approached from different angles and is thus necessarily cross-disciplinary. Moreover, departments are rarely willing to commit more than one line to a topical interest. As a result, current food scholars are located in a variety of departments: Cultural Studies, American Studies, and History in the humanities; Geography, Sociology, and Anthropology in the social sciences; and occasionally in Nutrition, Public Health, or Food Science departments in the sciences. Only rarely is there critical mass to create a cluster at a given institution. As a result, only a few institutions in the country come even close to service this growing interest: NYU may be the only recognized center of food consumption studies (here the specific emphasis is on nutrition), followed by Indiana University’s recent creation of a graduate program in the anthropology of food (with cross-disciplinary course requirements), although studies of food production have found their home in rural sociology departments, with an occasional geography or environmental studies department lending support. There is yet no “home” for scholars who work at the nexus of cultural and social studies of food, nutrition, and the body in the University of California, in spite of the subject’s critical importance to the land grant mission.
This MRP proposal to extend a currently funded MRG will create this home through workshops featuring books and articles in progress, public conferences and events, graduate mentoring, grant collaborations, and a planned joint graduate program. Its members, first brought together as part of the 2006 UCHRI residential research group “Eating Cultures: Race and Food,” draw from the strengths of three campuses in particular, where small clusters of food scholars already exist and meet regularly. At UCSC, the “agrifood research group” has met informally for several years to share research, hold workshops, and host occasional visitors. With individual faculty strengths in the social sciences (Sociology, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, and Community Studies), student interest in alternative food systems, social justice, and the presence of the campus farm and garden, the focus has tended towards agroecology, sustainable food systems, and food security, although there is growing interest to widen the scope of concern—particularly by involving more humanities scholars in the conversation. At UC Davis, food scholars reside in the social sciences and humanities, specifically in the programs/departments of American studies, Women and Gender studies, English, Theater, and History with one recent cross appointment between American Studies and Food Science and Technology. These scholars employ diverse methodologies including historical inquiry, literary criticism, ethnographic analysis, and critical theory. At UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara, scholars in history offer breadth in scholarly considerations of food and drink, particularly in Europe. The collective expertise bridges otherwise isolated scholars in agricultural and food systems and humanities and cultural studies. The concentration of MRP members located in Northern California allows for regular fruitful collaborations without excessive travel expenditures.
We have identified food and the body as the appropriate nexus for three reasons: 1) it encompasses and integrates both production and consumption concerns, 2) it engages humanists (who tend to work on the meanings of human consumption) and social scientists (who tend to focus on the systems that undergird that consumption, and 3) its findings are of relevance to health, nutrition, and medicine specialists on our campuses. This increases possibilities for science-social-science-humanities collaborations and collaborative NSF/NIH grant applications. Within this focus, we have built core areas of inquiry around questions of health, weight, taste, and labor and have prioritized, within these inquiries, the effects of race, class, and gender. It is here that our campus strengths can be successfully combined to incubate faculty and graduate student research that addresses critical questions about the human factors that influence food choice while remaining mindful of the structural realities of food production and distribution.
Programs, Activities, and Goals
Works In Progress Quarterly Colloquium
This activity is the core of our intellectual community. Modeled after the Berkeley Workshop on Environmental Politics, faculty presenters submit works-in-progress in advance of the meeting. Faculty and graduate student members read and respond during quarterly group meetings (typically two members present each session). The colloquium is tightly structured and moderated in a way that provides substantive feedback to the author as well as stimulates discussion and debate among the cross-disciplinary participants from the social sciences and the humanities.
The colloquium meetings are designed to serve the following objectives: 1) strengthen individual research projects with cross-disciplinary critique from experts, 2) broaden the research that emerges so that it reaches a broader academic audience and general audience, 3) mentor graduate students who are at the dissertation level in the process of writing and revision, 4) instruct graduate students how to balance interest in “food studies” with solid expertise in their discipline, 5) retain the internationally recognized food scholars in our group and recruit the strongest graduate students working on food in our respective disciplines, and 6) increase the prestige of the University of California through the publicity of our works in progress, members, and publications record,
The MRP emphasizes graduate student mentoring and professionalization. Within individual departments and programs, few mentors exist for graduate students working on food. Students often turn to professional conferences where they are encouraged to develop “food studies” work without adequate attention or advice for how that should be done within their respective disciplines. The MRP intentionally structures its colloquium series with attention to balancing and integrating disciplinary distinctiveness and common intellectual concerns on food and the body. The result is a professional mentoring and modeling program for graduate students that teaches them how to keep the concerns and conventions of their disciplines foregrounded in their dissertations, while urging them to stretch their projects with innovative methods and perspectives that will make them engaging job candidates and professionals whose work appeals to scholarly and general readers.
As evidence of the effectiveness of this approach, the MRP placed its first “alum” last year: Alie Alkon, who received her PhD from UC Davis, is now a tenure-track assistant professor of sociology (specializing in food systems) at University of the Pacific. Approximately five graduate student members of the MRP are expected to finish each year between 2009 and 2012. These students receive professional mentoring and scholarly support from the MRP that is essential for their placement in Research I institutions.
The colloquium series is also designed to retain and support our food faculty. Our full and associate professors in this emergent field are nationally and internationally recognized scholars, whose work situates them as sought-after public intellectuals. They are frequently invited to keynote conferences, contribute to “state of the field” publications and discussions, advise national and international policy makers, and offer expertise through articles and interviews for the popular press. As programs across the country develop courses and expertise in food (University of Mass Boston, University of Maryland, University of Texas, University of Iowa, Indiana University) we must offer an intellectually rich environment within the University of California in order to retain our scholars. No one campus can do this given the few “food” positions in any one division (particularly in this time of hiring freezes across our system). MRP members have been told repeatedly by food scholars outside of the UC that they envy our system-wide collaboration. Guests to our colloquia comment on the enormous range of expertise at the table and the elevated level of scholarly dialogue. In short, it would be difficult for any food scholar in the MRP to leave the UC because doing so would require leaving the “core” of food studies in the academy. A supplemental benefit of this colloquium series is that the participation of top scholars helps UC recruit the best graduate students across the humanities and social sciences on questions of food, body, labor, and health. Although our campuses cannot always offer the best funding packages in our programs, our MRP can offer the most intellectually lively and productive space for intellectual exchange and intensive graduate student mentoring.
Our MRP’s combined expertise in food and the body exceeds that of any one journal or press devoted to this area. On our own campuses none of us has what might be called a “critical mass” of food scholars to serve as a sounding board for works in progress for reasons mentioned above. Together in this MRP we are the critical mass in the field. Every article or book chapter that we workshop is made stronger, more relevant to multiple disciplines, and more compelling to the general public. This last point is of particular interest to the University of California as a whole: the public wants books on food, and the scholars who are emerging in this area are public intellectuals around whom major programs can be built from outside donors and external grants can be anchored. We are building these cross-disciplinary public intellectuals in our forums. The books in progress that are already emerging from our MRP and will emerge in the next two to three years will identify the University of California faculty as the leading producers of scholarly, rigorous books on food, nutrition, culture, and health in the humanities and social sciences. To date, publications that have resulted from faculty presentations to our MRP include 2 books forthcoming this year, 1 edited volume, 3 articles, and 3 book chapters.
The MRP will conduct one public event each academic year. These events have been, and will continue to be, designed to bring the academic expertise of its members into conversation with food, wine, and beer industry professionals and the general public.
This year’s Tasting Histories conference used $5,000 of MRP funds, raised an additional $30,000 (the bulk of which came from co-sponsorships on the UC Davis campus), and received $5,000 in in-kind donations of food and wine from our regional industries. One hundred and thirty people came to UC Davis for the three-day event; roughly sixty of those were members of industry and the general public. The event brought leading food scholars from all over the world to UC Davis. It was a significant first step towards establishing the UC as the premier institution for food scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.
This public event met the goals we will continue to have for yearly public forums by 1) enabling MRP graduate students to present their works in progress and get feedback from food experts beyond our MRP, 2) engaging members of the general public in UC scholarship and providing a base upon which to build public interest and program support, 3) generating publicity in local and international academic journals and popular media, and 4) enabling MRP faculty members to position themselves as experts in the field for the academic, public, and industry attendees.
With the recent closing of COPIA (museum of food and wine) in Napa, the yearly MRP food convenings are well positioned to be the primary forum for food forums in Northern California. We anticipate holding these events with minimal MRP funding in the future: we filled all available public slots within a week and next year will add a conference registration fee.
Graduate Student Mentoring/Westerbeke Dissertation Retreat
The MRP holds a two-day summer dissertation retreat for all graduate student members and five to six faculty. Each student pre-circulates a dissertation prospectus or chapter prior to the event. One lead and one secondary faculty commentator are assigned to each student. A format similar to the colloquium workshops is used, which allows each student, over the course of the two days, to have his or her project critiqued by a scholarly from his or her discipline as well as one from outside. An additional evening session on challenges in the field helps us identify and address discipline-specific as well as more general concerns within the group.
The goals of the dissertation retreat are
- To mentor graduate students to produce strong dissertations from multiple disciplinary and career-stage perspectives that lead to positions within research universities.
- To help students to produce one well-polished chapter each year that is ready for public critique, thereby speeding up their time to degree.
- To build intellectual common ground for faculty participants.
- To create a sense of cohort among graduate students
Collaborative Grant Applications
The MRP assisted Charlotte Biltekoff (UC Davis) with a France-Berkeley grant in early 2009. If funded, this would enable us to bring a French scholar on food and nutrition into the group. The MRP is an appealing group to international scholars, and we are hopeful that we will be able to pursue other forms of international university partnerships in the future. We will also propose an NEH summer seminar next year and look towards possible NSF funding for collaborative research on food, body, and health.
Joint Graduate DE in Social and Cultural Systems of Food
The group would like to create a Designated Emphasis between the core MRP campuses of UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz. This will enable the primary work of MRP to continue after the period of funding expires. We envision five required courses to be developed and taught by faculty from different disciplines within the social sciences and humanities. Students would take one course a quarter or semester and ultimately develop expertise in social science and humanities methods for considering questions of food, culture, and social structures. We would continue to integrate colloquia to share works in progress as part of this DE. This DE would recruit top graduate students into a number of individual departments on our campuses by offering formal certification of cross-disciplinary expertise.
The Studies of Food and the Body MRP requests to continue to use the funds already raised through July 1, 2010, as originally proposed to the Office of the President and to extend our funding through July 2012. This is a timely, inexpensive, and industrious MRP. We believe that three years of additional funding, as an MRP, will enable us to produce several concrete outcomes that will measure the success of the MRP in meeting its stated goals. These include 1) the production of cross-disciplinarily informed articles and monographs on food and the body by faculty and graduate students, 2) well-attended yearly public conferences that result in positive media coverage of UC faculty and graduate student “food” research and our respective home campuses, 3) co-sponsorship of public conferences by the food and wine industry, 4) the successful attainment of tenure-track positions by graduate student members, 5) the submission of at least one collaborative external grant per year with at least one MRP member as PI, 6) the submission of a joint Designated Emphasis in Studies of Food, Systems, and Culture between UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz by summer of 2012. The steering committee will meet once each year (in addition to regular colloquia gatherings) to review our stated goals, note achievements, and set new benchmarks.
Proposed Governance Structure & Participants
The MRP has a steering committee composed of two faculty from UCSC and two from UC Davis, one faculty member from UCSB, one graduate student from UC Berkeley, and one graduate student from UC Davis. We will keep the MRP located at the UC Davis campus because of the in-kind support the UC Davis Humanities Institute is able to supply in the form of space and infrastructural support for the MRP graduate student, their conference planning expertise, and the associate director’s assistance with grant applications. Carolyn de la Peña is both the PI for the MRP and the current director of the UC Davis Humanities Institute.
**The MRG website lists all current participants with brief biographies.
Timeframe and Budget
The MRP is requesting a slight increase over the budget we were provided as an MRG (18,000 annually) to 23,000 a year for a total of 69,000 over three years. The MRP will not be funded after July 1, 2012.
$13,000 25% GSR academic year (maintain website, assist coordinators)
$1000 additional GSR three-week summer stipend to facilitate dissertation retreat
$3000 works-in-progress colloquium publicity, travel, and catering
$3000 Westerbeke dissertation retreat
$3000 public conference base budget