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Members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community will come together at a common table when they examine food studies as UNC’s 2015-2017 university-wide academic theme.
“Food for All: Local and Global Perspectives,” which builds on UNC’s 2012-2015 “Water in Our World” focus on global water issues, will challenge all areas of the university to examine wide-ranging topics from food cultures and nutrition, to food security, world hunger, agricultural economics, resource management, sustainable development, climate change and international trade.
Dr. Alice Ammerman
Alice Ammerman, DrPH, professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, will co-lead the effort. Ammerman’s current research is focused upon nutrition programs and policies associated with obesity and chronic disease prevention, sustainable agriculture as it relates to improved nutrition and social entrepreneurship as a sustainable approach to addressing public health concerns.
The Gillings School’s Department of Nutrition, ranked #1 in the U.S., is uniquely situated within UNC’s schools of public health and medicine. Recognized as a global leader in research and training, its faculty members and students discover and translate innovative solutions for nutritional health throughout the life cycle.
Chancellor Carol L. Folt will offer a preview of the theme at a special session of the “What’s the Big Idea?”  lecture series, to be held at The William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education on April 30 at 7 p.m.
“‘Food for All’ is the perfect successor to the ‘Water in Our World’ theme,” said Folt. “With alliances like UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Global Research Institute and the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, Carolina can leverage its world-class resources to guide our focus on food over the next two years. Through this initiative, we can bring our community together to address this global issue that plays a critical role across many facets of our society — culture, health and the economy.”
UNC-Chapel Hill’s Global Research Institute proposed the food theme, which coincides with its own individual exploration of the topic, as the third in its continuing series established in 2009. With each new theme, the institute recruits a group of expert fellows to campus, providing faculty, students and staff the opportunity to creatively engage with some of the world’s leading scholars on the topic.
“We chose this theme, in part, because of the important role that food has played in our local community and region,” said Peter Coclanis, PhD, Albert Ray Newsome Distinguished Professor of history and director of the Global Research Institute.
Historically, the institute has chosen global themes that resonate with the U.S. South.
“Food is very much at the heart of cultures worldwide,” said Coclanis. “The agrarian history of the South makes us no exception. As a region, we also have important political, economic, cultural, health and social intersections with food.”
UNC-Chapel Hill is an international leader in food cultures and nutrition, and the Chapel Hill community, the Research Triangle and other area universities have also long embraced food research and studies.
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute, in Kannapolis, N.C., led by Gillings School of Global Public Health’s nutrition professor Steven Zeisel, MD, PhD, is one of the premiere institutes of its kind, studying ways to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent, treat and cure diet- and lifestyle-related diseases and disorders.
The Gillings School, the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, the Carolina Population Center, the Department of American Studies’ folklore program, the Center for the Study of the American South’s “Southern Cultures” journal and the School of Medicine are also world-renowned for their work on food studies, diet and nutrition.
Marcie Cohen Ferris, PhD, associate professor in the Department of American Studies, will co-lead the food theme’s steering committee with Ammerman. Both have diverse experience and deep-rooted interest in food issues and food studies.
Ferris, coordinator for her department’s Southern Studies Program, has taught and conducted research on both food in American culture and the foodways and material culture of the American South. This work is reflected in her current book, The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region (UNC Press, 2014). Ferris is past president of the board of directors of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
“There is no more important topic in the world than food,” said Ferris. “In food lies a range of dynamics like family, class struggle, ecological exploitation, connection to place, creativity and flavor that have long defined the American South. Through ‘Food for All,’ we are able to extend our analysis beyond the Carolina family to the world.”
The goal of the steering committee is to motivate conversation and research about food-focused scholarship and public engagement on campus, state, national and global levels. It also will encourage and support food-related activity, such as new courses, digital humanities projects, film and documentary work, speaker series, scholar and artist-in-residence programs, performing arts events and service projects across the campus, the Triangle community and North Carolina.
The multidisciplinary committee includes faculty and staff members, students, and community and local university partners. In addition to Zeisel and Ammerman, those from the Gillings School include:

  • Beth Mayer-Davis, PhD, professor and chair of nutrition;
  • Molly De Marco, PhD, research fellow and project director at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and research assistant professor of nutrition;
  • Will Chapman, nutrition master’s student;
  • Christina Chauvenet, maternal and child health doctoral student; and
  • Beth Hopping, nutrition doctoral student.