Food luminaries to light up spring semester

Q & A with Mark Bittman

“Why did I start writing about food as opposed to eating? I cared, and I saw an opportunity, and I took it…”

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Just as the city of Berkeley is a hot spot for the movement to improve American food, UC Berkeley increasingly is becoming a magnet for food luminaries. Next semester, the campus’s 2-year-old Berkeley Food Institute will host several well-known experts on food and agriculture as visiting fellows, scholars, authors and lecturers.

New York Times columnist and writer Mark Bittman is a notable star among them for his best-selling books and popular commentary on food, sustainable agriculture and health. Hosted by the Berkeley Food Institute and the College of Natural Resources, Bittman, as a distinguished visiting fellow, will collaborate with institute-affiliated faculty, staff and students on initiatives designed to improve the food system — how our food is produced, processed, transported and consumed.

Mark Bittman at the Oxford Tract Greenhouse Facility. (Photo by Jim Block)

He also will co-host the popular course “Edible Education 101: The Rise and Future of the Food Movement” with renowned soil scientist Garrison Sposito, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Formerly headed by Michael Pollan, admired author and Berkeley journalism professor, the 4-year-old course draws hundreds of students and community members. This spring, it will have limiting seating and, for the first time, be live-streamed to reach an even wider audience. Pollan, one of several founders of the Berkeley Food Institute, will continue to lecture and provide input for the course.

Bittman says the chance to work at UC Berkeley and the Berkeley Food Institute for a semester is “super-compelling. The food scene here is so complex and deep that it’s almost scary, but that’s exciting. I think I’m probably going to leave here learning much more than I teach.”

“Leaders in the food world are attracted to UC Berkeley because it is an epicenter of innovation in food and agriculture, and a hub for vibrant activity in the food movement,” says Ann Thrupp, director of the Berkeley Food Institute. “Berkeley not only has a long history of academic excellence in this field, but it has been pioneering research and innovation in areas such as agroecology and health/nutrition, in farm-to-fork programs and in advancing food justice and equity in food systems.

Not only renowned experts, she adds, but many Berkeley faculty members and students are connecting to the Berkeley Food Institute as they explore ways to “address complex challenges and help develop transformative changes in the food sector.”

This coming spring, other prominent food experts on campus will include:

  • Berkeley alumna Marion Nestle, a food studies, nutrition and public health expert and New York University professor. Her visiting appointment will be with the Graduate School of Journalism, and she also will be affiliated with the Berkeley Food Institute.
Saru Jayaraman delivering this year's Mario Savio Memorial Lecture. (Photo by Barry Bergman)

Saru Jayaraman, delivering this year’s Mario Savio Memorial Lecture. (UC Berkeley photo by Barry Bergman)

  • Daphne Miller, a practicing physician, author and professor of family medicine at UC San Francisco. She will be doing a research project as a visiting fellow with the Berkeley Food Institute on the health outcomes of agricultural biodiversity and teaching a semester-long graduate seminar on this topic called “Biodiversity and Human Health.”
  • Saru Jayaraman, a food activist, lawyer, educator and author who is a national voice for restaurant workers. She will continue into a second year on campus in her role as a lecturer at the Goldman School of Public Policy and as a visiting scholar with the Berkeley Food Institute. She is director of the Food Labor Research Center, doing research on and teaching about labor and food justice issues.
  • Claus Meyer, co-founder of Noma, a restaurant in Copenhagen that has been ranked among the best in the world. In Bolivia, home to his restaurant La Paz, he is creating a thriving food culture that also provides employment to low-income residents. He will be a Berkeley Social Impact Fellow at the Haas School of Business.

“Having food luminaries among us next semester will add new inspiration and insight to the work we’re already doing to improve the food system,” says Keith Gilless, dean of the College of Natural Resources. “But they also will be developing additional projects and ideas that are certain to keep UC Berkeley at the forefront of food and agriculture innovation.”