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From the Desk: Co-director Peter Todd introduces IU's new Food Institute

Jan. 25, 2017

People care about food in Bloomington.

Whether it's students exploring sustainable vegan lifestyles, farmers raising happy chickens, chefs serving obscure street food or professors studying the language of cuisine, we're surrounded by foodies. (On my own desk in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, I have edible bug snacks, 100,000 Scoville-unit hot sauce, supertaster test strips and recipes for cheese salad from the 1800s, mostly for pedagogical and research purposes.)

Peter Todd and Carl Ipsen posing by the Food Institute building sign

From left, IU Food Institute co-director Peter Todd and Food Project director Carl Ipsen outside their new home at 405/407 N. Park St. Richard Wilk (not pictured) is also co-director of the IU Food Institute. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE IU FOOD INSTITUTE

We became keenly aware of this multitude a few years ago when we organized the 2014 Themester on food, as more and more people came out of the woodwork to participate, scattered across campus and around town. Now we have a place to bring together this vibrant crowd of people concerned with what and how we eat: the IU Food Institute.

Bloomington has long been a culinary hotspot, and IU Bloomington has had a graduate food studies program through the Department of Anthropology for the past dozen years. But now, with about 50 faculty members who teach and study food-related topics in a variety of departments and schools on campus, and multiple undergraduate groups and courses dedicated to food issues, the time has come to expand and connect all this food-related energy.

The IU Food Institute and its “propaganda wing,” the IU Food Project for undergraduate engagement, were established with support from the College of Arts and Sciences and given a home in the fall at 405/407 N. Park St. Together our mission is to promote innovative research, education, and public engagement and outreach on multidisciplinary approaches to food and foodways.

Our building includes offices for graduate students, postdocs and visitors to work and interact; an extensive research library with hundreds of volumes on food history, culture, cultivation and cooking; and a meeting room where we hold seminars, reading groups, classes and gatherings for students, faculty and community members. 

Interactions with food begin local, but they quickly expand to take in global concerns, such as promoting health and fighting disease, reducing food inequity and food insecurity, and fostering local economies and international trade. Food connects everyone on the planet, bridging the everyday experience of eating to key issues of policy and academic research. And the Food Institute is a place to study, discuss, and engage in these issues as well.

We are dedicated to addressing the pressing human and environmental challenges of providing both sustaining and sustainable food for a changing planet, and to connecting academic research to state and local concerns for building healthier and more commercially successful food systems. In sync with this research focus, the Food Project’s educational mission meets a mounting demand from students seeking careers that address the food-related environmental, economic, and ethical issues confronting our world. In addition to the many undergraduate activities it sponsors, the Food Project runs a new undergraduate certificate in the culture, politics, science and practices of food production and consumption.

In the past year, the Food Institute and Food Project members -- including our hard-working graduate assistants and undergrad intern -- have inaugurated our building with a (mostly successful) demonstration of our PancakeBot® 3-D printer for griddled goods; hosted visits from a Mayan chocolate farmer and producer, a Caribbean dub-poet/food activist and IU alums turned commercial head chefs and pastry chefs; presented a “Science on Tap” talk on brewing; held a campus-wide “Go Vegan for Lunch” challenge; taught a new three-course set on multidisciplinary approaches to food; met with Ivy Tech culinary school faculty to discuss common initiatives; sponsored a cookie exchange; and launched a radio interview series with WFIU’s weekly "Earth Eats" program hosted by Annie Corrigan. 

Coming up this semester, we have a weekly series of seminars by visiting and local faculty; a regular graduate student research/discussion group; a cheese tasting event; meetings of the Cognition About Food and Eating (CAFÉ) reading group and a student writing group; a new Food Project challenge for "No Sweetened Beverages;" and a visit by world-famous chef and author Alice Waters. To find out more and join us, visit our webpage, subscribe to our weekly newsletter or email us at foodinst@iu.edu.

Food is the great unifier, bringing us together to celebrate our commonality and our differences. Here’s to more unity, more celebration -- and more food!

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