Potential concentration in Food and Agrarian Studies

A group of faculty, staff and students met Wednesday to explore the creation of a concentration in Food and Agrarian Studies. The concentration would organize pre-existing courses into a cohesive study of food production, consumption and culture.

Food issues have been a longstanding passion at Macalester, dating back to campus activism during the 1960s. According to geography professor Bill Moseley, however, student interest in Food and Agrarian Studies has increased in recent years.

“I’ve been teaching at the college for 12 years now and I’ve seen a steady increase in food and agricultural interest among students over the past 10 years,” Moseley said.

The theme of the annual International Roundtable in 2012 was “Feeding the World: Globalization, Food, and Agriculture in the 21st Century.” Students were heavily involved in organizing the Roundtable, and at the end of the conference a group of students presented a call to action asking for feasible changes in the community, including the creation of a Food Studies concentration.

However, the college did not offer enough courses to support a concentration, which by definition is intended to organize already-existing courses rather than create new ones. Moseley, who was involved in the creation of this call to action, thinks the time has come to reconsider.

“This is really driven by student interest, but there is also a core of faculty who have research and teaching interests in this area spread all across the college,” Moseley said. “So I thought it was time to talk about it again and explore the possibilities.”

The meeting Wednesday was well attended: students, faculty and staff demonstrated enthusiasm at the prospect of a Food and Agrarian Studies concentration. Those present determined that interest on campus was sufficient to continue pursuing possible options.

The group will hold a few more meetings this spring to clarify the details. In the fall they hope to submit a formal written proposal to the curriculum committee, after which the proposal will be submitted to the faculty for a vote.

There are several concerns that could be raised against the creation of a new concentration.

According to Moseley, there is an idea that Macalester already has too many concentrations, and that students looking to fulfill an academic interest in food could pursue it through pre-existing programs such as the International Development concentration or the food studies focus within the Environmental Studies major.

“The reality is you have a good chunk of students who don’t want to be Environmental Studies majors,” Moseley said. “Maybe they’re a Biology major or a Geography major. The concentration is a vehicle that would allow them to do that without being an Environmental Studies major.”

The proposed concentration would allow students with a specific interest in food to study it across a variety of departments on campus, as related courses are already offered in departments ranging from Anthropology to Economics.

Another potential issue is the longevity of the program.

“The other concern would be that this might be an ephemeral interest: students are interested in it now, but will they continue to be in the future?” Moseley said. “The concentration, then, is perfect for this, because it [would not be] a permanent structure. It [would be] created to capture these sort of things.”

Despite potential opposition, Moseley thinks that a Food and Agrarian Studies program is a good match for Macalester, as the school’s location in the Midwest provides opportunities for firsthand observation and participation in a thriving agricultural community.

“We have a great context for this,” Moseley said. “Minnesota and Wisconsin have this huge alternative organic agriculture community, a really lively farmers market scene and this great urban agriculture movement.”

Proponents believe that a Food and Agrarian Studies concentration would provide visibility for the already existing classes and opportunities on campus to incoming students, in addition to capitalizing on campus-wide interest and the school’s location.