Scholars Join Forces over Food Issues
Conference whets appetites for collaboration.
Out of curiosity, Professor Christopher Gardner decided to explore the extent of scholarly interest in food issues at Stanford. The response was so strong that it led to a November 3 campus Food Summit that drew participants from all seven schools, discussion groups that continue to meet and devise projects, and a 500-person email list that may be the precursor to a new research coalition.
Gardner, director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and an associate professor of medicine, first wondered if the breadth of concern over food problems would translate into action. After more than 350 people showed up for the summit, which included representatives of community groups and alumni as well as students and faculty, he began thinking about an ongoing alliance of educators, food businesses and investors, and civic and philanthropic organizations.
"I saw all these things in the summit," Gardner says. "Wouldn't it be cool if we could pull all of them together?"
The range of issues includes public policies about food, eating behaviors, environmental sustainability, global shortages and economic considerations. Gardner, who led a summit workshop on child nutrition, is collaborating with education professor Ira Lit to create a summer camp for middle schoolers at a working farm, where instruction about agriculture would sneak in fun lessons in math, science and other subjects.
The immediate challenges are headlined by the need to find funding for such specific initiatives. But there seems to be tangible momentum, and a second summit this year is likely to attract even more extensive participation.
Chef and restaurant owner Jesse Cool was among the summit speakers. She says she's witnessing dramatic changes in thinking about food. "Western medicine is now connecting food to well-being," she notes. "That may sound like nothing, but even two years ago, when I was consulting at Stanford Hospital, it was challenging."
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