Posts Tagged: Food
But the truth is, dietary advice is nothing new. Some of our rules for eating date back to ancient times as part of religious teachings, and food traditions are central to our understanding of culture. What is new over the last century or so is the application of science to our diets, so that we can know more exactly what nutrition science tells us is best when it comes to filling our plates.
A new book by a UC Davis researcher argues that modern dietary advice is not merely scientific, but also continues to have cultural, ethical and moral messages attached to it.
“Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food & Health” analyzes how modern dietary reform movements in the United States do not just tell us how to eat right, but how to become a good person and a good citizen. Can eating a certain way make us into different, somehow better people? And who defines what sort of people we should strive to become, though improved eating? Author Charlotte Biltekoff calls for changing the way we think about what it means to “eat right.”
The book analyzes four dietary reform movements over the last century:
- the rise of domestic science and home economics,
- the national nutrition program during World War II,
- the alternative food movement, and
- the anti-obesity movement.
These reform movements cover nutritional advancements such as the science of cooking, the discovery of vitamins, the shift in emphasis from contagious to chronic diseases, and the increasing importance of diet and lifestyle as a part of health. The book examines how dietary ideals have shifted, how social ideals have shifted alongside them — and the relationship between the two. Notions of middle class identity, good citizenship and individual responsibility each have been mixed in with nutritional advice before it is served to the public, according to the author.
Rose Hayden-Smith, leader of UC ANR’s Sustainable Food Systems strategic initiative and a historian of gardening, said she can't wait to read this book.
“This whole idea of both empirical and ethical considerations of food choices really makes sense to me, rooted in the Progressive Era,” she said. “All of these scientific advances don’t matter if people don’t adopt them. So I think it’s really important for scientists to understand the cultural context into which their work is going.”
Beth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, was intrigued by a presentation given by Biltekoff at UC Davis recently.
“This expands my way of thinking about the struggles we have with food choices and the potential for complicating well-intentioned messages,” she said. “We can’t ignore the scientific evidence that food choices have a huge impact on our health, but we must also realize when the things we’re saying are charged with judgments."
In a recent interview on Capital Public Radio, Biltekoff pointed out how analyzing history can shed light on difficult truths.
“History is such a great tool for learning to see things differently,” Biltekoff said. “The history that I tell in the book suggests that we worry so much about what is good to eat because of the social stakes involved in 'eating right.' Because it’s not just about our physical health, but also about our sense of self and about our social standing. There's a lot at stake that we may not be conscious of, but really is part and parcel of the conversation about 'good' food.”/span>
“Food commands attention and brings people together,” says L. Ann Thrupp, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute, a new interdisciplinary research center comprising five different UC Berkeley schools. “It touches on every aspect of human society.”
It’s bringing academia together, too. Food research centers have been springing up at campuses across the United States as higher education takes on the complex topic from multiple perspectives.
“The academic community is recognizing that when it comes to food, it’s no longer possible to tease out agriculture from environmental, public policy, social justice and public health issues,” Thrupp says.
UC Berkeley’s new initiative is ambitious. In development for nearly two years before its launch this fall, the center has a mission to help achieve transformation in the food and agriculture systems, making them more diverse, healthy, resilient and just — at local, regional, national and international levels.
The Institute will pursue that transformation by supporting and galvanizing collaborative research efforts across its five partner units — Berkeley Law, the Goldman School of Public Policy, the Graduate School of Journalism, the School of Public Health, and the College of Natural Resources (CNR) — and with faculty affiliates throughout the University.
But, as befits Berkeley’s storied history of activism and leadership, the Institute’s vision is larger than publishing in academic journals. Its leaders plan to break down the traditional boundaries between academia and society and connect with boots-on-the-ground stakeholders who can help identify knowledge gaps and use research to bring about real changes in the food system.
“It is not enough to conduct research — the fruits of this research must be delivered broadly to civil society and to policy makers,” says Claire Kremen, a conservation biology professor and one of the Institute’s two faculty co-directors. “That’s why the schools of journalism and of public policy are key collaborators. They have the expertise to communicate our findings to key sectors and actors in society and government.”
Thrupp echoes the point. “Making an impact will require the engagement of multiple sectors, including scientists, farmers, food system workers and policymakers — at all levels,” she says. “The Berkeley Food Institute will help facilitate those crucial connections.”
This fall, two heavy-hitters from far-flung corners of the food world are helping the Institute start making those connections, as its first visiting scholars. Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, fights hunger worldwide and defends food as a “human right.” Saru Jayaraman, head of the UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Center, has fought to improve wages and working conditions for food workers, and to broadly communicate the issues they face.
The next panel, “The Right to Food: Reshaping Policies for Development and Public Health,” scheduled for Oct. 28, is moderated by J-School Dean Edward Wasserman and features De Schutter and public health and ag-econ faculty.
The fall programs culminate with “What’s Next for the Food Movement?” a conversation between author and journalism professor Michael Pollan and, fresh from the Obama administration, former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan. It’s moderated by journalist Linda Schacht.
The dynamic public events series, what organizers are calling “The Food Exchange,” is just a taste of the conversations, investigations, and collaborations to come, both behind the scenes and in a public forum.
“It’s inspiring that so many researchers, students, stakeholders and community members are interested and involved in the Berkeley Food Institute and our mission,” Thrupp says.
- Listen to an interview with faculty co-directors Claire Kremen and Alastair Iles, which aired Sept. 6 on KALX.
There’s no better way to get acquainted with a country and it’s culture than to learn to appreciate its cuisine.
With that thought in mind, UC Davis and China’s Jiangnan University, along with China’s Ministry of Education, are establishing the world’s first Confucius Institute devoted to Chinese food and beverage culture on the Davis campus.
You’re invited to attend the new institute’s public opening celebration, complete with song and dance by performers from China, at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16, at UC Davis’ Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. Admission is free and visitor parking is $8. More details are available at the Confucius Institute at UC Davis web site at: http://tinyurl.com/pu6lqk8 .
There are 90 Confucius Institutes throughout the United States — including four others in California at UCLA, Stanford University, and San Diego and San Francisco state universities. Worldwide there are 400 Confucius Institutes but the UC Davis institute will be the first to use food and beverage as a way to engage the public in learning more about Chinese culture and language.
"Food brings all of us together," said celebrity chef and restaurateur Martin Yan, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees in food science from UC Davis. "Food is also history, culture, anthropology.… From studying food, from enjoying food, we can talk about tradition, heritage.… Food is a reflection of culture, history, religion and many other things," he said.
Yan, who will hold a book signing in the Mondavi Center's lobby at 7:30 p.m., has played a pivotal role in helping to plan for the new institute and serves as one of its culinary advisors.
Charles Shoemaker, professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at UC Davis with extensive experience in China, serves as the director of the Confucius Institute at UC Davis, while Linxia Liang, director for Asian international programs at UC Davis and a scholar in Chinese law, is co-director.
Four visiting scholars from Jiangnan University are working with UC Davis representatives to plan the new institute’s program, which will include opportunities for the campus and greater community to participate in events such as:
- lectures on the lure of Chinese tea and cuisine, and the mores of social drinking
- workshops on Chinese cooking, Chinese holiday food and doing business in China;
- food-tasting events
- intensive Mandarin-language learning camps for high school students
- graduate student and faculty research opportunities
The Confucius Institutes were initiated in 2004 by the Hanban arm of China's Ministry of Education, which since then has partnered with universities and other organizations to establish the institutes worldwide to foster understanding of Chinese culture.
The Confucius Institutes are named for the iconic Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 B.C.), whose teachings espoused individual and governmental morality and propriety of social relationships.
This newest institute combines signature strengths of UC Davis and China's Jiangnan University as world leaders in food and beverage science and technology. In addition to fostering education and research, the institute will encourage conversation between the food and beverage industries of China and California.
In his most recent book, Salt, Sugar, Fat, Moss shined daylight on the happier sounding, but no less alarming phrase “bliss point,” a food industry term for the exact combination of those titular ingredients that stimulates our brain’s pleasure center and makes us — and our kids — crave these highly engineered products, from spaghetti sauce to Doritos.
The book is an investigative reporting piece that exposes the cold, hard scientific and business calculations made in the highly competitive food industry. But with his appearance as the opening keynote address at the 7th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference, taking place in Long Beach, Calif., this week (June 18-20), Moss places his research squarely in the middle of its public-health context.
That context will be drawn by the country's preeminent experts on children’s health, who will present their current thinking on topics such as strategies for protecting children from food industry marketing tactics, how we can use health care reform to address childhood obesity, and how zoning and the built environment can have positive influence on the children’s health. The Prevention Institute’s Julie Sims will talk about innovative messaging that promotes policy change, like in this video:
The conference is designed for public health practitioners, researchers, health workers and educators, and nutrition professionals. They will be treated to an event bookended by two best-selling authors — Marion Nestle gives the closing keynote.
Nestle, an NYU professor and author of Food Politics and What to Eat, will close the conference with a talk on how a focus on policy can reverse current obesity trends. She will provide examples of how advocacy for environmental and policy changes that promote healthier diets and more physical activity “can be linked to positive sustainable action,” according the conference website.
Ultimately, the goal of the conference is nothing short of wiping out childhood obesity.
“Conferences such as this are crucial to creating and maintaining the movement to eliminate childhood obesity,” said Ces Murphy, conference planning chair and a project manager at California Project LEAN at the California Department of Public Health, one of the conference’s co-sponsors. “By sharing information, leveraging resources and creating partnerships that lead to positive sustainable change, we will accelerate the progress of reaching this goal.”
Pat Crawford, director of UC Berkeley’s Atkins Center for Weight and Health, is one of the founders of the conference and has an integral role in shaping it each year. Crawford says that the work is starting to pay off. "The effort to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic has expanded exponentially during the past few years, and we are beginning to see some of the positive outcomes from these efforts.”
Every wonder whether those crowd-sourced reviews online actually make a difference in a business’s bottom line? For restaurants, the answer is an unequivocal yes, according to a new study by UC Berkeley economists. Researchers analyzed restaurant ratings on Yelp.com and found that, on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, a half-star rating increase translates into a 19 percent greater likelihood that an eatery’s seats will be full during peak dining times.
“This is the first study to link online consumer reviews with the popularity of restaurants,” said study lead author Michael Anderson, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley. “We show that social media sites and forums play an increasingly important role in how consumers judge the quality of goods and services.”
The study found that moving from 3 stars to 3.5 stars increases a restaurant’s chance of selling out during prime dining times from 13 percent to 34 percent, and that moving from 3.5 stars to 4 stars increases the chance of selling out during prime dining times by another 19 percentage points. These changes occur even though restaurant quality remains constant.
Not surprisingly, the economists found that crowd-sourced reviews have a bigger impact when there is a lack of alternative information available by which to judge a restaurant’s quality. They also found that restaurants rated in popular guidebooks or newspaper rankings did not see a statistically significant effect from the Yelp rankings.
“If a restaurant has a Michelin star or it appears in the San Francisco Chronicle’s list of Top 100 Restaurants in the Bay Area, the Yelp star becomes irrelevant,” said Magruder. “Those restaurants are relatively famous, and consumers already know them. For restaurants that were not on those established reviews, we actually saw a 27 percent greater likelihood in filled seats during peak dining times with a half-star rating increase on Yelp.”
Could these findings lead to potential manipulation of the ranking system for profit?
“We considered that possibility, and our study indicates that so far, such manipulation is under control,” said Anderson. “There are enough reviews available that it would be difficult to generate enough fake positive reviews to drown out the bad ones. There is also an element of self-policing since customers going to a restaurant on the basis of a good fake review only to be disappointed could submit a bad review. It could be hard for the business owner to sustain the false positives over time.”
The researchers are now looking to expand their analysis beyond eateries to sites such as Amazon.com, Tripadvisor.com and Netflix.com.