OAKLAND, Calif. — Earlier this month, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced the UC Global Food Initiative, an endeavor aimed at alleviating global food crises with the help of university networks and resources.
The 10 university campuses scattered across California are adopting the new approach as a joint effort along with the UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Research under the initiative will focus on sustainability, nutrition, and agricultural expansion to eliminate food insecurity. UC hopes to improve future conditions brought on by growing populations and climate change.
In a holistic effort, the program will involve law, humanities, education and social science as well. By encompassing all fields of study, the UC system illustrates the complexity of the global food crisis. It also shows that it is important not to overlook the different facets of human endeavor that affect how food is grown, treated, distributed and consumed.
“Our goal is far-reaching,” Napolitano said in a news release. “It is to do all we can to help the world learn to feed itself in ways that are healthy and sustainable in the use of resources.”
UC is in a powerful and sensible position to adopt such an initiative. Not only is the state of California an agricultural and educational hub of the world, there are already various research systems in place to fuel progress.
“The University of California is in a unique position to help because of what’s going on in the campuses,” said UC Office of the President spokesperson, Steve Montiel, who had stressed the importance of prioritizing the food issue in research and academia. He added, “One billion people go to bed hungry every night, another half billion suffer from obesity. By the year 2055, the world’s population will grow by another billion.”
Aside from influencing positive change in the world at large, the initiative marks a slight change for UC students as well. UC is integrating food issues into academic curriculum, adopting campus food policies that emphasize local and sustainable sourcing and will actively encourage sustainable food practices among its students. Additionally, the UC will award a $2,500 President’s Global Food Initiative Student Fellowships to three students on each campus.
The initiative itself was conceived at the dinner table of Napolitano and renowned chef Alice Waters, alumna of University of California-Santa Barbara and University of California-Berkeley, at her restaurant. Waters brought up current sustainability and nutritional issues behind the global food crisis and felt the UC should actively address them. The UC Office of the President shared Water’s sentiment.
“There’s so much expertise and so many resources at the University of California that we have an obligation to take on big issues,” Montiel said. “I think what it says about the University of California is that we’re not just … teaching for the world, but we’re also providing public service, locally and globally.”
Actions will speak louder than words, however. At this point it is not clear what the scope of influence may be, especially since the initiative’s announcement was not accompanied by a timeline for progress or estimated impact. Regardless, the UC is in a position to empower a generation of scholars to make real change, and it very well should.
– Edward Heinrich