Carolina will come together at a common table when it examines food and food studies as its 2015-17 academic theme. “Food for All: Local and Global Perspectives” is intended to build on Carolina’s “Water in Our World” focus on global water issues that began in 2012. The new theme aims to challenge all areas of the University to examine wide-ranging topics from food cultures and nutrition, to food security, world hunger, agricultural economics, resource management, sustainable development, climate change and international trade.
Chancellor Carol L. Folt will give a preview of the theme at a special session of the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education’s “What’s the Big Idea” lecture series on Thursday.
“ ‘Food for All’ is the perfect successor to the ‘Water in Our World’ theme,” Folt said. “With alliances like UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Global Research Institute and the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, Carolina can leverage its world-class resources to guide our focus on food over the next two years. Through this initiative, we can bring our community together to address this global issue that plays a critical role across many facets of our society — culture, health and the economy.”
UNC’s Global Research Institute proposed the food theme, which coincides with its own individual exploration of the topic, as the third in its continuing series established in 2009. With each new theme the institute recruits a group of expert fellows to campus, providing faculty, students and staff the opportunity to creatively engage with some of the world’s leading scholars on the topic.
“We chose this theme in part because of the important role that food has played in our local community and region,” said Peter Coclanis, director of the Global Research Institute.
The institute historically has chosen global themes that resonate with the American South.
“Food is very much at the heart of cultures worldwide,” Coclanis said. “The agrarian history of the South makes us no exception. As a region, we also have important political, economic, cultural, health and social intersections with food.”
UNC is an international leader in food cultures and nutrition, and the Chapel Hill community, the Research Triangle and other area universities have long embraced food research and studies.
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis is one of the premiere institutes of its kind, studying ways to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent, treat and cure diet and lifestyle-related diseases and disorders. The department of American studies’ folklore program, the Center for the Study of the American South’s Southern Cultures journal, the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, the Gillings School of Global Public Health, the School of Medicine and the Carolina Population Center also are world-renowned for their work on food studies, diet and nutrition.
The food theme’s steering committee will be led by co-chairs Alice Ammerman and Marcie Cohen Ferris, both Chapel Hill faculty members with diverse experience and deep-rooted interest in food issues and food studies.
Ammerman is a professor in the department of nutrition in the Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Her current research is focused on nutrition programs and policies associated with obesity and chronic disease prevention, sustainable agriculture as it relates to improved nutrition, and social entrepreneurship as a sustainable approach to addressing public health concerns.
Ferris, a professor in the department of American studies and coordinator for the department’s Southern studies program, has taught and conducted research on both food in American culture and the foodways and material culture of the American South. This work is reflected in her most recent book, The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region. Ferris is a past president of the board of directors of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
“There is no more important topic in the world than food,” Ferris said. “In food lies a range of dynamics like family, class struggle, ecological exploitation, connection to place, creativity and flavor that have long defined the American South. Through ‘Food for All’ we are able to extend our analysis beyond the Carolina family to the world.”
The goal of the steering committee is to motivate conversation and research about food-focused scholarship and public engagement on a campus, state, national and global level. It also will encourage and support food-related activity, such as new courses, digital humanities projects, film and documentary work, speaker series, scholar and artist-in-residence programs, performing arts events and service projects across the campus, the Triangle community and North Carolina.