Applied Food Studies Takes a Broad Perspective

The Culinary Institute of America’s Applied Food Studies (AFS) major debuted in January. This new program provides a broad and interdisciplinary perspective on the complex and interrelated issues in the food world today. Program themes include food policy; food ecology, agriculture and the environment; the local and global food systems and sustainability; food within the global context of culture, environment, and migration; food ethics; and cultures and cuisines of the world.

Our thought is that students who get this kind of wide exposure will be positioned to understand, articulate, and take well-informed action to address the complexities of food issues in the world today. We are preparing responsible leaders who will understand the issues and problems that are at the root of some of the most vexing problems of our time.

Graduates of the Applied Food Studies program will be positioned to move into different segments of the food industry. They will be particularly adept at food marketing and communications, food media, and food writing. In restaurants they will be valuable in any kind of role where there’s a lot of communication related to food, such as food sales and food sourcing. But with this new major, we’re thinking beyond the food industry, too. We’re also thinking about food education, advocacy work, policy-making organizations, health agencies, and community-supported agriculture.

We have also built in a lot of options for students to tailor their interests in the program. We have a whole series of electives on applied food studies that they can select from, including beverage and culinary courses such as Advanced Wines or Advanced Cooking. We also offer international study with trips to Italy, France, Spain, and China, and companion courses in the food and cultures of these destinations.

This summer we are offering a trip to Peru, a country famous for its fusion cuisine. Next year, we will also offer a local experience in New York’s Hudson Valley, cluing students in to food, agriculture, and historical foundations right in our own community. For example, students will learn about how the Dutch settled the area and what they brought to this part of the country, some of which continues today, such as numerous apple varietals and dairy farms.

In the final term, students have a capstone class, a project-based class that will vary from semester to semester. The first one is going to be a program based at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, which is only a mile up the road from Hyde Park. Students will restore the victory garden that Roosevelt put in, helping with the research and restoration. One possibility is to stage an FDR-style picnic, serving the kind of food they would’ve eaten during the 1930s and 1940s to get a sense of that time and place as it relates to food. The history of food policy during the Roosevelt presidency is another possible subject of study. We believe that understanding the past is critical to envisioning a future of new possibilities.

The global perspective is really well developed in the program, too. We have an international collection of faculty teaching these courses, which enriches it considerably. It’s also worth noting that we engage with chef faculty and other faculty here on campus who teach related courses. For example, one of our core faculty members, Darryl Mosher, is also a farmer. He’s teaching a course on food systems to AFS students.

In a new video created about the AFS program, one of our faculty members, Dr. Nilsa Rodriguez-Jaca, who teaches a course called “Feasting and Fasting in Latin America,” says the AFS program is important because the worldwide conversation about food is larger than the food industry itself. This statement quite nicely sums up the mission and scale of our new Applied Food Studies major.

Denise Bauer, Ph.D., is the associate dean of liberal arts at The Culinary Institute of America.

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