Food Policy at the CIA

5 Applied Food Studies- packaging

Students at the CIA can now delve deeper into the realm of policies affecting the food industry. Food Policy, one of the core course requirements for Applied Food Studies (AFS) majors, is a seminar-practicum that takes a cross-discipline approach to the study of policy and food. The course integrates the disciplines of economics, political science, psychology, anthropology, and law. It is designed for AFS students interested in careers in the fields of food policy and advocacy but is available as an elective for students in other majors who have a particular interest in the topic.

Students in the class have the opportunity to immerse themselves in both the study and application of public policy theory. The emphasis is on experiential learning, where students apply both the theoretical and empirical knowledge gained from readings and discussion, to developing food policy on campus. The focus is sustainability, and the practicum culminates with the delivery to the campus community of a white paper containing in-depth analysis and policy recommendations regarding the sustainability of a component of campus food operations.

A Living Social Science Laboratory

The unique nature of the Hyde Park campus, with its full-service restaurants, bakery café, production kitchens, bakeshops, and Restaurant Associates-operated dining options, provides a fascinating, and arguably one-of-a-kind, social science laboratory. Very few colleges have the capacity to offer students the opportunity to investigate and conduct real-world experiments with food service operations. The course takes full advantage of this exceptional environment to facilitate student engagement in primary research. The unique challenges of research provide the perfect milieu for students to hone their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Students grapple with the complexities of integrating sustainability criteria into real-world food policies. Students use primary research methodologies—surveys, interviews, and observation—which provide opportunities to drill down deeply into a problem and develop actionable policy solutions to solve it. The course uses case studies to highlight the challenges inherent in public policy approaches to solving societal problems. Case studies include food and public health (food taxes, serving size limits, marketing to children), labor in the food system (tipped minimum wage, paid sick days, fair scheduling), and animal welfare (gestation crates in the pork industry, gavage in foie gras production).

Over the last few semesters, students have developed policies to increase transparency in meat purchasing at the CIA, accommodate food allergies in campus dining, and improve the sustainability of how the campus handles waste. The current class is working on the sustainability of “to-go” packaging at the Apple Pie Bakery Café. They are analyzing the life cycle of the current packaging, investigating possible alternatives, developing behavioral nudges to create more sustainable default options, and tackling the challenges of integrating sustainable practices into a food service operation while maintaining profitability and customer satisfaction.

The challenges facing the food system today are precisely what the students confront in their research. This experiential approach to problem-solving, coupled with the opportunity to present their analysis and recommendations to campus leaders, excites and engages the students. It is this rich interdisciplinary and experiential approach in the applied food studies program that nurtures the students’ creativity and empowers them to develop the innovative thinking necessary to create a more sustainable system.

By David Flynn, CIA associate professor of liberal arts.