This week, Penn students will have a chance to explore the nature of food in America.
Now in its third year, Food Week will feature a variety of events on food-related topics like the farm bill, food justice and nutrition. It is coordinated by Bon Appétit and students in the academically based community service and Fox Leadership class “The Politics of Food.”
“The idea behind Food Week is it’s a collaboration with a number of other organizations on campus to bring to light issues about food,” said Chuck Brutsche, “Politics of Food” co-instructor and associate director of the Fox Leadership Program.
Events include a three-course dinner with the Urban Nutrition Initiative on food justice issues; a nutrition panel with a Nutrition Science professor, a certified athletic trainer and a Penn Student Health nutritionist and a lunch with restaurateur and 2006 College and Wharton graduate and MBA candidate Amir Memon. The week will conclude with a “Battle of the Spices” dinner, coordinated with the United Minorities Council, which will offer a host of cultural foods.
While Political Science professor Mary Summers has been teaching “The Politics of Food” since 2002, her students began working with Bon Appétit in fall 2009.
“The goal [of the class] is to get students to think about the institutions that shape the food that people eat,” she said. “Food Week is the perfect opportunity to take the kinds of issues that they’re thinking about and find great people to speak on them.”
Brutsche believes the issues behind Food Week — which touch on policy, health of the economy, taste and culture — are relevant to all Penn students.
“I just hope that students recognize the importance of food,” he said, mentioning that he hopes students will attend events to learn about the federal policies that affect the food they eat. “Many people don’t realize the impact that the farm bill has on the foods we eat every day.”
“I do think a lot of these things are about changing your perspective,” said College sophomore Priya Srinivasan, a “Politics of Food” student who is working with Bon Appétit to fulfill the class’s service component.
She believes that the nutritionists’ panel will provide valuable information on healthy eating in college and hopes that discussions on farm workers’ rights might encourage students to purchase produce from different suppliers in the future.
“You just get the same food every day, and you don’t really think about where it’s coming from. I think there are a lot of great things to learn from each and every one of these events,” she said.
In addition to coordinating Food Week, Srinivasan along with some of her classmates coordinated the Food Stamp Challenge. The challenge, presented in Joel Berg’s All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America?, asks participants to live on $20 of food for five days.
Some “Politics of Food” students took on this test last week in order to more clearly understand the difficulties of eating healthily on food stamps.
Srinivasan spent almost an hour in Fresh Grocer trying to find foods that were both healthy and inexpensive. Over the course of the week, she ate a “a lot of soup and black beans.”
“One of the things I’ve learned is that at $4 a day, you have to cook all of your meals. I wasn’t hungry, but I was never satisfied,” she added.
College senior Shreyans Goenka also coordinated and participated in the Food Stamp Challenge with his roommates.
“It was a struggle and a task to constantly make choices,” he said. “It has made me so much more aware of my own privileges and the kind of food I take for granted.”
Summers described Food Week as a “combination of education, outreach and having fun,” but also stressed that it is an important opportunity for students to learn about sustainable food and food justice issues in America.
“When you think of food, you don’t necessarily think of politics,” she added.
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