Environmental studies will debut new Food Systems and Nutrition minor

The environmental studies department has announced its plans to unveil a new Food Systems and Nutrition minor that will be released in the fall of 2016.

This initiative is being led by Professor Colin Orians, who has been the director of the environmental studies department since 2010.

“The idea of having something related to food systems and nutrition as a minor has been a long-standing hope and desire by people who preceded me,” Orians said. “The question has always been what…the best home [is] for a minor like this.”

The environmental studies major currently has four main tracks that students can focus on, including an environmental science track, a sustainability, policy and equity track, an environmental communications track and a relatively new food systems, nutrition and environment track, which was established in fall 2014. There is also a fifth track option for the major, for a self-designed track with an advisor.

While all of these tracks have considerable student support, a little over a quarter of students involved are in the food systems track, Orians said.

Ninian Stein, a program lecturer in the environmental studies department, said that the new minor is designed to be complementary with other existing academic programs.

“This [new] minor is designed not to replace [the current food systems track], but to complement it for students who are in other programs,” she said. “If you do not have time for a major, it’s designed to be a minor that could be compatible…with other options.”

Orians explained that purely offering the food and nutrition major track, without the food minor, has certain disadvantages. These drawbacks result from the fact that environmental studies is only offered as a second major, meaning that in order for students to major in it, they must also major in something else.

Orians said he hopes that by creating this new minor, the environmental studies department will be able to capture the interest of students doing majors or double-majors outside of environmental studies who really want to engage in food systems and nutrition.

The Food Systems and Nutrition minor will join another minor that is currently being offered by the environmental studies department, according to Stein.

“We [currently] have the environmental studies minor that is offered to engineering students,” she said. “It’s a very specific department, just for engineering students, which is a bit different. The new [food systems] minor would be open to students from any part of the university.”

While this new minor is being introduced in the environmental studies department, the subject matter can relate to a wide variety of majors, including biology, anthropology and religious studies, Stein said.

According to Orians, although much thought and planning has gone into the preparation of the new minor, deans and Environmental Studies faculty have not yet met to officially approve the curriculum.

“What we have is a dream, an idea, but all of this is going to be voted on by the faculty at some point in time,” he said. “What it will look like in the end may not be exactly what it looks like now because it’s very important that the faculty have a voice over the curriculum of the university.”

Orians said that despite not having official approval, the environmental studies department knows how it would like the minor to be structured, including having an introductory gateway course for the minor.

“Our hope is that we’ll have an…introductory course that will serve as an interdisciplinary gateway course to food systems and nutrition,” he said. “The way I like to think about it is a course that will go from farm to table to body.”

After this gateway course, students will have the opportunity to choose from a number of existing introductory courses that deal with different aspects of food systems, Orians said.

“If they’re interested in food justice, they might select one set of courses,” he said. “If they’re interested in sustainable agriculture, they’re going to set up a different sequence of courses.”

Stein, who has spent much of her career studying food systems, said that there has been significant interest in food as an academic topic at all of the institutions at which she’s worked. 

“[At] every school I’ve been at, student, faculty and staff interest in food and food systems has been very high,” Stein said. “[The interest] seems to be very strong here at Tufts. Food is a topic whose star is rising.”

Orians echoed Stein’s sentiment about the popularity of food studies within the Tufts student body.

“There’s this huge growing interest,” Orians said. “We just created this brand new track that was really different [from] anything else, and a lot of students just immediately migrated to [it]. So that was a real confirmation of food systems being something that students are really interested in and are wanting to engage in.”

Orians explained that though the Food Systems and Nutrition minor is not yet official, members of the environmental studies department are optimistic about the program’s popularity and eager to begin teaching students in the fall.

“We have this mass of faculty that are quite excited about the potential to engage students around food and [to use] it to teach basic concepts as well as applied concepts,” he said.