As a former member of the editorial board of Gastronomica, I was invited by its new editorial collective to contribute to a compilation of letters to young people entering the still new field of food studies.
Here is my contribution:
Welcome to the world of food studies, a field we at NYU adopted in 1996. That date may well be before you were born, but we view our programs as still young, hungry, ambitious, and striving to find their place in the world, just as you must be. We designed them to respond to demands for deeper and more complex analyses of the role of food in culture and society, and of how food systems operate, in practice as well as in theory. We hoped we would attract students who wanted to learn about—but also to act on–what our society needs to do to solve major food-system problems: food insecurity, chronic disease, and climate change. And here you are, ready, we hope, to take them on.
Without question, they need taking on. Food insecurity—lack of access to a reliable daily supply of adequate food—affects roughly fifteen percent of Americans and nearly a billion people worldwide. At the same time, about two billion people consume so much food that they become overweight and at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other leading causes of premature death and disability. Furthermore, the way we typically produce and consume food depletes soil and water resources, pollutes streams, and generates unsustainable amounts of greenhouse gases–thereby affecting everyone on the planet. The urgent need to solve these problems is the obvious response to the challenge, “why study food?”
I’m guessing you will hear this question often. We certainly do. To address it, we also point out that sales of food exceed a trillion dollars annually in the United States, that everyone eats, and that food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Food matters–physiologically, economically, socially, psychologically, and emotionally.
How to deal with all this? Study hard. Learn everything you can about everything you can. Be curious. Follow leads. Dig deeply. But never lose sight of the pleasure. Delight in what you are learning about food and what it means, but also use what you learn to take even deeper pleasure in food itself.
–Marion Nestle, Emerita Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University