Food issues are hot on campus now — check out the several related articles in this month’s edition of GradNews!  Of course, graduate students are in the thick of the mix.

Closest to home, our campus is expanding programs to ensure food security among our own student populations, as reported in the April 2016 issue of GradNews. For individual needs, check out the resources shown at the Financial Aid Office’s Food Resources site and the UC Berkeley Food Pantry site.

At Berkeley, action goes hand-in-hand with academic research and programmatic initiatives.

The Berkeley Food Institute

The BFI brings together students, faculty, and staff to transform food systems — to expand access to healthy, affordable food and promote sustainable and equitable food production. It seeks to empower new leaders with capacities to cultivate diverse, just, resilient, and healthy food systems. BFI brings together seven schools and colleges at UC Berkeley in a multidisciplinary effort to transform our food system; coordinates work on food systems both inside and outside the university; serves as a hub and facilitating communication among many groups and individuals; and builds links and overcomes gaps or silos that have commonly impeded progress in this field.

Three food system themes — promote equitable access to good food; advance fair and healthy jobs in food systems; accelerate the adoption of agroecology — use a holistic approach to address these pressing issues with the overlapping activities of education, research, policy, communications, and community engagement

Over the last three years, the BFI has supported about a dozen student fellows across a variety of disciplines to research policy issues and undertake community engagement projects.

Maywa MontenegroMaywa Montenegro

Now a sixth-year Ph.D. student in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management, Maywa situates herself at the intersections of political ecology, human geography, rural sociology, and journalism in the relatively new field of Science & Technology Studies (STS). Her focus is on seed and crop diversity and the downstream applications of molecular biology techniques for nutritional enhancement of bio-fortified crops.

All around us, we are witnessing upheaval around issues of race, class, equity — issues manifested through food systems as well. Berkeley has a long history of activism and justice, which can be brought to resonate through its food policies, research programs, and educational initiatives. We can treat diversity as not just genetic and biologic but as including and valuing multiple colors and genders of people. At Berkeley, we can pay attention to marginalized populations at the center of our food systems.

Working with the faculty co-directors of the BFI, Maywa’s roles include acting as communications coordinator for the Center for Diversified Farming Systems. Here she helps shape how research on health intersects with media narratives which influence, for example, how the public develops views on GMOs.

Tara Benesh

Established in 2014, The UC Global Food Institute is a UC-wide initiative that aligns the university’s research, extension, outreach, and operations in a sustained effort to demonstrate and develop solutions for food security, health, and sustainability. The Berkeley Food Institute has actively engaged in three of its subcommittees and other Global Food Initiative efforts since its inception.

Tara Benesch

A fellow of the UC President’s Global Fellow Initiative and MD/MS student in the UCB/ UCSF Joint Medical Program, Tara noted that GFI funding made possible her cross-cultural collaboration in Mexico. She describes her work this way:

UC Berkeley has a history of bridging research and advocacy, and with the advent of the soda taxes in Berkeley and Mexico, there are new opportunities for applying nutrition, dental health, and public health research to policy efforts in both [the US and Mexico]. The Global Food Initiative provides students with a valuable interdisciplinary perspective on issues of sustainability and food access, and I look forward to expanding these efforts to partners throughout California and abroad.

My project used the parallel soda taxes in Berkeley and Mexico to explore the intersection between policy, nutrition, and public health. I worked with universities and advocacy organizations in Mexico to raise awareness of the oral health consequences associated with sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, and laid the foundation for future binational research collaborations. As a result of my outreach, advocacy organizations and universities in Mexico now have access to more information about the consequences of sugary beverage consumption, and were made more aware of gaps in research and future possibilities for collaboration. UC Berkeley students now have opportunities to travel to Mexico and participate in research that can directly influence policy and advocacy efforts.

A complete list of students who have held fellowships is shown on the BFI Fellows web page. You can read more student stories there as well as in the Magazine of the College of Natural Resources.