Food for Thought — and Sustainability The first class of UCLA Food Studies scholars receives certificates at Luskin School celebration

By Stan Paul

Five master’s and Ph.D. students from across the UCLA campus are the first graduates of the Food Studies Certificate program administered through the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The students — all completing their graduate programs at UCLA this year — were awarded their certificates by Wendy Slusser, associate vice provost from UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative, at a celebration and networking event held May 24, 2017, at the Luskin School.

The certificate program, open to all UCLA graduate students, stems from the University of California’s systemwide Global Food Initiative started in 2014 by UC President Janet Napolitano, as well as work already under way at UCLA, recognizing the vital importance of food security, equity and sustainability as a persistent and growing global concern.

Among the evening’s guests was Evan Kleiman, host of the KCRW radio program “Good Food.” The chef, author and radio show host has been a continuing “supporter of all things food studies on campus,” said Alexis Oberlander, department of urban planning graduate advisor and project manager for the Food Studies Certificate program based at Luskin.

The first class began taking courses in fall 2016 starting with a food studies colloquium stressing the cross-disciplinary nature of the growing field ranging from cultural anthropology, geography, law, urban planning, sociology and public health to technology, cell biology and environmental science to name a few. Some of the courses offered through the program focus on food policy and systems, nutrition, cultural aspects of food, maternal and child nutrition, literature, global health, the city as well as family nutrition locally and abroad.

This year’s certificate recipients include Jocelyn Harrison, Nandini Inmula and Meghan O’Connel, all completing their master of public health (MPH) degrees; Yan Wang, completing his Ph.D. in biostatistics; and, Tyler Watson, completing his doctoral program in environmental health sciences.

“All five students were interested in food studies before joining the certificate program, but they all agree that the certificate excels at connecting people from different disciplines,” Oberlander said. She explained that the program helped the students step outside their comfort zones and learn about the interdisciplinary nature of food studies. “That’s what this program is all about. I hope we can continue growing from that point,” said Oberlander, who also helped develop the program at Luskin.

The ceremony also included recognition of 14 new students who have been accepted into the 2017-18 program from across campus. Among the incoming group is Karen Diaz, a master of urban planning and master of public health (MURP/MPH) student who also served as the Food Studies project assistant.

“As a MURP/MPH student, the food studies certificate program is a no-brainer,” said Diaz, who was a community organizer and garden school educator in New Mexico before coming to graduate school at UCLA. “When I began to apply to graduate schools, I was looking for programs that would allow me to specialize in my niche interests of the built environment and communal health in communities of color with a focus on environmental and food justice.”

Diaz, who also is a teaching assistant for the UCLA course “Good Food for Everyone — Health Sustainability and Culture,” said she was inspired to analyze power structures, and how they benefited certain people and excluded others in her community of southeast Los Angeles. “I was inspired to apply as a dual applicant to better understand these power dynamics and to better help leverage resources in my own community,” she said.

More information about the Food Studies Certificate program can be found online.


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