Faculty cluster hire in sustainable and equitable food systems
Thursday, January 12, 2012
The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is involved in an ongoing junior-faculty cluster hire called Sustainable Food Systems.
The cluster will examine the path toward a sustainable and equitable food system, spanning the natural and social sciences. Professors John Vandermeer and Catherine Badgley are coordinating the cluster hire for EEB.
Sustainable Food Systems is part of a five-year, $30-million initiative announced in 2007 by U-M President Mary Sue Coleman to recruit scholars whose work crosses boundaries and to bring experts from different fields together to explore significant questions or complex problems.
According to the proposal, today’s global food system produces unprecedented quantities of food. Nevertheless, over one billion people lack adequate food to satisfy the minimum standards of nutrition, despite more than adequate global supplies, a perplexing pattern that has been evident for many years. Ironically, obesity has become a major health problem for some, even as hunger continues to plague others. Moreover, the modern agricultural system that developed during the past century is increasingly recognized as environmentally unsustainable, in many cases causing severe environmental degradation and substantial losses in biological diversity. Finally, for the consumers, food safety has emerged as a critical problem, and for producers – farmers and farm workers – workplace safety and unfair compensation threaten the sustainability of their livelihoods. A global food system that simultaneously produces hunger and obesity, that generates significant collateral environmental degradation and that compromises the wellbeing of consumer and producer alike challenges the academic community to engage in serious analysis and action.
This challenge has been partially met with the emergence of a new paradigm that emphasizes sustainability and social equity, rather than profit and production, at its core. Contributions to this new paradigm are emerging already from many sectors of society, especially at the grassroots level (e.g., local food systems, increased demand for organic and fair-trade products, reinvigoration of inner cities through urban agriculture, and new business models such as community-supported agriculture). The university is the ideal place to forge the intellectual foundation that will inform and guide the construction of a coherent path toward a sustainable and equitable food system, helping to reinvigorate rural and urban communities, promote environmental protection and enhance economies at state, national and international levels. The complex and multi-dimensional challenges of transforming the food system require an approach that engages multiple disciplines and considers systemic effects such as feedbacks and interdependencies.
“This is an exciting time to expand the faculty interested in sustainable food systems. The student interest is tremendous and there are many opportunities for research and engagement,” said Badgley.
The faculty proposed for this cluster will be located in EEB, the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the School of Public Health, the Urban and Regional Planning Program of Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and the Ross School of Business in collaboration with the Center for the Study of Complex Systems. In EEB, the focus will be on the evolutionary or ecological bases of food-production systems. Together with faculty already working on related topics in these and other units, the proposed cluster will create an interdisciplinary program that will provide opportunities for a new generation of natural and social scientists, as well as applied scholar-practitioners. The cluster will combine disciplinary specialization with commitment to interdisciplinary research on the food system in relation to the environment, human health and equity.
Photos: A coffee farmer planting a new coffee seedling in Mexico and a banana vendor in a city market in Havana, Cuba
In this article: