Food is inherently tied to our health and our planet. It’s related to the biggest 21st century challenges such as climate change, energy, drought and economic inequality. Many of us call ourselves “foodies” and love to watch celebrity chefs on television baking fancy hors d'oeuvres and desserts while an endless array of apps and websites provide inconsistent dietary recommendations. A tremendous amount of misinformation and pseudoscience circulates online alternatively celebrating and demonizing our favorite staples such as wine and chocolate. In 2018, it’s nearly impossible to sift through all of the noise and figure out where to turn for accurate and reliable information on food.
Fortunately, as the first land-grant institution in the United States, MSU knows a lot about food and agriculture. From cutting-edge research on farming and health practices to our extensive Extension network, MSU boasts a wide array of expertise on a vast spectrum of food-related topics. For these reasons, MSU launched Food@MSU, a campus-wide initiative intended to share expertise, promote dialog, listen to consumers and foster trust on the important food topics that touch our lives and communities.
As the centerpiece of Food@MSU, Our Table is a series of round table conversations on a variety of food topics ranging from farming to food safety. Our Table events take place in regions around the state where host Sheril Kirshenbaum moderates a lively discussion with farmers, scientists, health professionals and community members.
The inaugural Our Table discussion took place on November 16, 2017, at Cristo Rey Community Center where the focus was on food access. Panelists included Joseph Garcia, executive director of Cristo Rey Community Center; Dilli Chapagai from the Greater Lansing Food Bank; Joan Nelson, executive director of the Allen Neighborhood Center; Rich Pirog, director of the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems; and Lorraine Weatherspoon of MSU's Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. In 2018, Our Table plans to explore additional topics that include food waste, farming, and the relationships between what we eat and our health and well-being.
Food@MSU also recently launched the new MSU Food Literacy and Engagement Poll. The survey was rigorously developed to explore consumer attitudes related to a variety of significant topics from trust in scientists to organic farming. Results revealed that much of the U.S. public remains disengaged or misinformed about food. For example, 48 percent of Americans say they never or rarely seek information about where their food was grown or how it was produced. There were also big differences in age groups: 46 percent of millennials always choose organic foods whenever they are available compared to just 15 percent of seniors. Most surprisingly, more than one-third of respondents did not know that all food contains genes—noteworthy considering current policy battles over genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling. Forty-six percent of Americans either don’t know whether they consume GMOs or believe they rarely or never do, even though most of us encounter them daily in corn, sugar and soy. Over time, the MSU Food Literacy and Engagement Poll will track public attitudes to guide research, as well as allow MSU to listen to consumers to help the public make more informed decisions about what we purchase and prepare.
Food@MSU will continue to expand in exciting ways through 2018. Kirshenbaum is co-hosting a new program “Serving up Science” with Karel Vega during “All Things Considered” on WKAR radio. The show will explore a wide range of fun and informative topics. Similarly, a new digital short series with MSU’s Public Broadcasting Service affiliate will tackle complex food challenges in short, easy-to-digest video segments.
Never conventional, MSU plans to work toward creative ways that involve our neighbors, students, faculty, friends and wide alumni network in Food@MSU. Look for more Our Table conversations as well as other events that bring in broad groups of people from all walks of life together to discuss food.
Food@MSU has had a great first year, but the initiative is only just getting started. Visit food.msu.edu for updates about events, new articles and information from experts on campus and beyond. There, you are also invited to share your food questions or provide feedback and suggestions as Food@MSU grows. The most important part of the conversation is hearing from our community. That means we’re depending on you—yes, you—to pull up a chair and join the conversation, anytime, online or in person at Our Table and be a part of Food@MSU.
This article was published in In the Field, a yearly magazine produced by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. To view past issues of In the Field, visit www.canr.msu.edu/inthefield. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 517-355-0123.