UT student organization seeks to address political, nutritional issues of food production

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National dialogue about food production and consumption hits home with UT students in the new Food Studies Project.

The group held a live viewing party of the Jan. 21 TEDxManhattan conference, “Changing the Way We Eat,” as its first public event of the semester. Founder Daniel Heron, a Spanish and Portuguese senior, has been involved with food advocacy on campus for a while. He said the idea for the new student-run group came to him during a recent road trip with a friend.

“We had this coming together moment and said, ‘Why aren’t we discussing food and food subjects in our studies?’” Heron said. “‘Why isn’t there a program to discover the deeper meaning of food?’”

Heron used this idea to help form the Food Studies Project, a new organization of UT students working to bring people together to discuss current food issues and share a common love of food.

“Austin is a foodie city,” Heron said. “Last spring, we launched our public campaign to have a new institute at UT to bring food studies here It’s been going well since then.”

Heron said the organization is putting together an academic advising committee to reach out to other students, who can attend weekly meetings and get-togethers with local restaurant owners.

“Our main goal is to look at food holistically, coming from all perspectives,” said Brittany Smith, Food Studies Project’s lead editor of publications. “It’s been a fun process watching it grow. The interest is really kind of snowballing.”

Smith said the Food Studies Project aims to address topics like nutrition as well as political issues and moral questions involving food production.

“We ask, ‘Is the system we have bad?’” Smith said. “We’re approaching some of those problems and trying to come up with solutions.”

Heron said the project shares common interests with issues discussed at the TEDxManhattan conference in New York City. The seminar addresses topics such as abuses in the poultry industry, impacts of a high meat diet on the nation’s health and the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

Heron said he saw the conference as a way to link the Project’s interest in food with a growing national awareness on these types of issues.

“Their goal is similar to ours,” Heron said. “They want to start collaboration in the work field, we want to do it here on campus.”

The Food Project’s outreach director Ronak Patel said he hopes the TEDxManhattan conference will draw more attention to issues the project members hope to address at UT.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to start off the year,” Patel said. “I think it will generate a lot of hype here in Austin.”

For all the important issues the project addresses, Heron said its main purpose is simple.

“It’s really about bringing people together,” he said. “We want students to come and connect with working professionals to see what we can implement here.”

Printed on Tuesday January 24, 2012 as: Student group explores importance of food