Sunday, August 31, 2008

Food & Agriculture: The New Trend in Higher Education

Shared post with Agricultural Law:

As someone who has practiced, taught, and wrote about agricultural law for over twenty years, the current upswing in interest in studying issues of food and agriculture is gratifying. You can imagine my reaction when the Washington Post published Field Studies: In Exploring Culture, Politics and the Environment, Food Programs Hit the Academic Mainstream last week.

The article reports that Yale now offers 19 food and agriculture courses, with that number up almost 50 percent from five years ago. "Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food, taught for the first time in fall 2006, had to be moved to one of the college's largest lecture halls to accommodate the 325 students who registered."
"There's a generation of students that understand that the modern world has been shaped by agriculture, and they are turning to their curriculum to understand those connections," says Melina Shannon-DiPietro, director of the six-year-old Yale Sustainable Food Project, which runs the pre-orientation program [in organic farming].
And, highlighting that the trend is not just at Yale, the article references "pioneering" food studies programs that have existed for some time at Boston University and New York University. "[F]ood is now entering the academic mainstream" with new programs this year at the University of New Hampshire and the University of California at Davis and food courses referenced at George Washington University and Catholic University.
Professors point to several reasons behind the boom in food studies. One is competition for enrollment. As more students profess a broader awareness of food and its cultural and environmental implications, colleges are scrambling to offer courses to attract them.

Trends in academia also are fueling the growth. First, the explosion of food literature has produced books students want to read. "When I first taught a course on food seven years ago, it was hard to find books," says Carolyn de la Peña, associate professor of American studies at UC Davis. Instead, she had to use narrow, often technical articles that didn't appeal to students.
In the past 10 years, a body of literature has emerged: Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation," Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Morgan Spurlock's documentary film "Super Size Me," among others. "You can hand them to a student, and they can see how their own choices affect labor practices or health or the environment," de la Peña says.
Will the trend continue? While "[p]rofessors acknowledge that all the courses in the world aren't going to end college students' love affair with pizza and beer . . . once you have gone from ignorance to a greater understanding of how your choices impact the food system, you can't go back."

In the LL.M. Program in Agricultural Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law, we are continuing to expand our offerings in food law, with three courses in the curriculum and others being developed. There has been enough interest among J.D. students so that we have opened two of these classes to them, and yes, we have had to move to a slightly larger classroom (although admittedly we are a long ways from the largest lecture hall). Similarly, our new Journal of Food Law & Policy has been very well received. And, I have contracted with Carolina Press for the publication of an Agricultural Law J.D. casebook - with an emphasis on the natural link between agriculture and food.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Law of Food and Agriculture

As we have done in recent years, we began our academic year with An Introduction to the Law of Food and Agriculture, a popular course taught by our long-time friend and colleague, Neil Hamilton. Neil is the Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law at the Drake University School of Law and the Director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center. He has taught agricultural law for over twenty years and was instrumental in the founding of our LL.M. Program, serving as one of our first professors in 1981. He returns to Arkansas at least twice each year to teach classes in the LL.M. Program. Pictured here is Professor Hamilton and University of Arkansas School of Law Dean Cynthia Nance.

In this course, Professor Hamilton introduces our LL.M. candidates to a wide array of agricultural policy issues and discusses current trends affecting food and agriculture.
Among the current issues that the class discussed were:
  • Increased consumer and retail interest in local foods
  • Direct marketing opportunities for agricultural producers
  • Sustainable agriculture and the development of a sustainable food system
Exemplifying the currency and significance of the issues discussed in class, today the Washington Post highlighted the local food movement in its article, As Food Becomes a Cause, Meeting Puts Issues on the Table.

As this article notes:
The term "foodie" is no longer reserved for an exclusive club of chefs and discriminating diners. Today, food has become a focus -- and a cause -- for a broad audience, from individuals such as the Chico residents offering their yards to an idealistic urban farmer, to corporations such as Chipotle, which this month announced that each of its more than 730 restaurants will be required to buy a percentage of the produce it serves from local farms.

Sodexo, the world's largest food-service company, now sources from 700 independent, regional farmers and is overhauling its menus to focus on seasonal and local ingredients. Wal-Mart announced last month that it plans to buy and sell $400 million worth of locally grown produce at its stores in 2008. "It's no longer the fringe elements," said Tracey Ryder, founder of Edible Communities, a publisher of regional food magazines. "We call it the new mainstream."
As one of the founders of the slow food movement in Iowa, Professor Hamilton is at the Slow Food Nation in San Francisco that is described in the Post article.

We are pleased to offer our LL.M. candidates an opportunity to begin their year of study by exploring this very current area of law and policy - the merger of food and agriculture through the formation of a food law system that is based on sound agricultural production practices, environmental sustainability, and a restored connection between consumers and their food.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Welcoming the class of 2008-2009

We are pleased to welcome a new class of LL.M. Candidates - attorneys from Kentucky, Indiana, Texas, Michigan, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, and the country of Ukraine. Orientation for the new class was held on Friday, August 15. After giving each of the attorneys a chance to introduce themselves, there was a PowerPoint presentation that introduced agricultural law, emphasized the importance of studying the law of food and agriculture, and described our unique program.

To learn more about any of these topics, watch the introductory orientation presentation yourself.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Farm Blogs From Around the World

I was pleased to receive an email a few weeks back from the author of a new blog called Farm Blogs that gathers together links to the very best of global blogging about farms and farming. It includes a blog roll sorted by country along with a General Interest section (where we are linked). Posts are made up of blog recommendations by other farm bloggers combined with farming stories from around the world. There are a number of very interesting posts and some beautiful photography.

The author of this blog and the source of my email is author Ian Walthew of Auvergne, France. He describes his use of blogs "much as one might use a scrapbook or a cuttings folder - a 'scrap-blogger' you could say, using blogs to gather and collate material for future use."

Ian invites readers of the post to send him the details of any farm/rural blogs that they like and think are worthy of being listed. Any recommendation should come with a short decription of the person recommending and a short description of each of their recommended blogs. Contact Ian at for more information and to make your recommendation.

Note that Ian is the author of 'A Place in My Country: In Search of a Rural Dream' (Weidenfeld & Nicolson; hardback, 2007; Phoenix; paperback, 2008. The book is a memoir of his move to rural life in England where many of the changes he discovers are similar to that experienced in rural areas here. Clover Stroud of The Sunday Telegraph writes that the book is "Funny, touching and ultimately very moving; this is a beautiful, unsentimental account of a personal loss that is reflected in the rapidly changing texture of life in rural England." We will add this book to our list of suggested titles for our spring Agricultural Perspectives course.

In addition to Farm Blogs, Ian also blogs at 'A Place in the Auvergne' - a "scrap-blog" that follows his life as a self-described English ex-urbanite with his Australian wife in rural France. Good stories, political and social commentary with an international perspective, and again, beautiful pictures.

We are pleased that Ian found us and happy to pass on this information about his work. I am sure you will enjoy reading about his experiences.

Exploring Food in Vienna

As the last post was titled, Professor Kelley Participates in World Justice Forum in Vienna, this post might well be titled, Professor Schneider Eats in Vienna! I suppose that since I am a food law professor, I can justify my Viennese food exploration as almost work related. But, the truth of the matter is that while Christopher was hard at work at the forum, I had the fantastic opportunity explore the beautiful city of Vienna. And, while I could describe what a beautiful city Vienna is, or I could discuss its wonderful history of music, as is so often the case when I travel, I found the food culture to be of great interest. So that will be the focus of my brief tribute to this wonderful city.

Much of my experience can be summed up with the statement, "Food and drink are to be appreciated, consumed slowly, and thoroughly enjoyed." And, when the weather is nice - they are to be consumed outside - in parks, at lovely sidewalk cafes and at markets. What a fine tradition!

Consider the coffee. No drive-thru paper cups of coffee sloshed down on the go. The coffee house is a Viennese institution. And I was told that the Viennese take their coffee very seriously. Melange is the native preference, a delicious mixture of very strong, rich coffee and frothed milk which I thoroughly enjoyed. It is served in a cup and saucer on a small plate or tray along with a glass of water and a small biscuit or wrapped chocolate. Of course, many coffeehouses also sold wonderful pastries as a perfect accompaniment.

My interest in local food led me to converse with a delightful Viennese woman who was selling her families' homemade sausage at a kiosk in a small market area. I asked her to select my lunch for me, and she chose wisely: the most wonderful sausage I have ever tasted, fried new potatoes and home made sauerkraut. Oh, and of course Austrian beer. Although I admit that it would have been enough for me to eat for both lunch and dinner, it was delicious.

Although this lunch was had a small market area in the midst of the quiet historic downtown, the Naschmarkt is Vienna's most famous and surely the liveliest food market. This fascinating market includes vendors selling all types of food, flowers, herbs, and beverages in a friendly, busy atmosphere. Market vendors intermix with cafes and street musicians entertain - truly a fun experience.

Vienna is a fascinating city with wonderful food experiences for tourist and regular alike. I am pleased I was able to visit and hope to return again.