Bard College at Simon’s Rock has launched a center for food studies. The new program will allow students and faculty to dig into food’s sustainability, nutrition and cultural role.
Professor Maryanne Tebben will head the Center for Food Studies. She says one of the goals is to broaden student and community access to real-world food studies. Tebben looks to create internship and services opportunities with local farmers, recalling one student’s experiences traveling abroad.
“We had a student last year who did ‘woofing’ or ‘working on an organic farm,’ Tebben said. “It’s an international system and you can hook into it. She ended up working on an organic farm in Spain and Greece for her study abroad period in a semester. She did hands-on work laboring with the other workers and learned a lot about the nutrition side of it and the functioning farm.”
The school currently offers a handful of food-related courses with focuses on biology, geography and culture. Tebben teaches a French literature class in which students look at the aesthetics and mythology of food as it relates to French culture. She says the center will provide a framework for the development of more food-related courses.
“My colleague in anthropology for example has said she could easily adapt here intro to anthropology course to have a through line of food,” Tebben said. “She works in Africa and many of the people she works with are farmers and necessarily that’s what they do for a living. So she’s said she could easily have that element. So we are hoping to encourage faculty to develop them more and then have a cadre of courses we can put out there for students.”
The four-year college offers more than 40 areas of study for students who are ready to leave high school after the 10th or 11th grade. Anne O’Dwyer is the Dean of Academic Affairs for the Great Barrington-based school. She says the college has developed more courses around environmental issues in recent years and the center for food studies fits into that trend.
“They’re not as rigid in their thinking in terms of disciplines or how things ought to be or accepting the way things are now,” O’Dwyer said. “They’re questioning and wanting to make a better world, so I think it is a perfect age. It ties into our students feeling that they are connected to the world in a larger ways. Issues of sustainability, food and health I think all tie in together in that way.”
Inspired by a growing trend of self-sustaining food sources, Tebben says students and faculty are reinvigorating an on-campus community garden.
“They take an ownership of it when they are working in garden and they are doing the weeding and the hard work and then to see that the food is being used in dining hall,” Tebben said. “I think that makes a great connection. If we can make a connection to local farms and have them sell produce that we can use in the dining hall, I think that’s a great connection too.”
To kick off the center’s launch, the college is co-sponsoring a food conference April 19 at Simon’s Rock. Peter Stanton of The Nutrition Center, another co-sponsor, will be participating in one of the three panel presentations with regional farmers, restaurant owners and school dining directors. He says getting kids interested in the nutritional and sustainability factors of food at an early age can have a positive impact on their future.
“They’re excited and ready to take it up at that stage,” Stanton said. “So it almost can be an unconscious experience that they want to have more of.”
Click here for more information on the ThinkFOOD Conference.