Often associated with dining halls and the Yale Farm, the Yale Sustainable Food Project may soon become a part of curricular life.
The YSFP’s academic efforts in conjunction with faculty over the last several years may lead to a Universitywide interdisciplinary approach to the study of food — potentially as a course of study, a secondary major or an administrative center based on current student and faculty demand, Melina Shannon-DiPietro, director of the YSFP, said. But though Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she supports the expanded study of food and agriculture at Yale, she noted that the University’s current financial situation — as described in University President Richard Levin’s letter on Friday — may dictate the future of the initiative.
“We’re going to have to sit down and scrutinize every program,” Miller said. “Everything will have to conform to new budgetary guidelines. I think we’re fortunate to have made as much progress as we have on issues of food and sustainability.”
Those involved emphasized that the initiative is still in the early stages, but Shannon-DiPietro said she hopes to launch something within two or three years. In the immediate future, however, she and her colleagues hope to create a program exclusively for freshmen, similar to Perspectives on Science, a half-credit course consisting of research presentations by faculty and student discussions.
“There’s an incredible demand for coursework in food and agriculture,” Shannon-DiPietro said. “There’s a range of work being done right now, across many departments. All the pieces are in place for a true interdisciplinary approach.”
Yale currently offers a concentration in food and agriculture within the environmental studies major as well as a non-degree granting agrarian studies program. Shannon-DiPietro said she hopes the future will bring a more interdisciplinary and formal approach, combining the hard sciences with the arts, humanities and social sciences; the practical with the theoretical. To gauge potential interest, history professor Paul Freedman will teach a spring freshman seminar entitled “The History of Food and Cuisine,” based on a similar lecture course he taught three years ago.
Three years after the YSFP was created in 2001, it became involved with the academic life of the University as students started going to the YSFP for advice on internships, work opportunities and extracurricular activities; the YSFP and University Career Services then initiated a collaboration to provide students with more information about such opportunities, Shannon-DiPietro said. Around the same time, professors began consulting the YSFP for academic support and coordination on classes related to food, agriculture and the environment. The YSFP now assists with syllabus development, research advising and recommendations for experts to serve as guest lecturers.
Adam Walker, who is a farm manager at the YSFP, said he is “all for” a coordinated approach, but he also emphasized the significance of practical experience.
“It’s important to approach the study of food from all angles, to work with food itself … in places like the farm and the lab, and to study it in an academic setting.”
But other students said they are skeptical about the initiative. Maryam Ghiassi-Nejad ’11 said she is unsure the program will be rigorous enough unless it emphasizes the hard sciences in its approach.
“You can learn about food anywhere,” Ghiassi-Nejad said.
During the 2008-’09 academic year, 860 Yale undergraduates took a course on food, agriculture and the environment, according to the YSFP. These courses spanned the five distributional requirements and 15 departments.