President Kaler Looks to Food to Advance the University
Being immersed in a big university means you will be constantly surrounded by changes. Last year, the University underwent a big switch as we said farewell to President Bruininks and welcomed President Kaler. Being the president of one of the largest universities in the United States is no easy job, but President Kaler took the path that the current national presidential candidates are taking- engaging with their audience and their people.
President Kaler opened up to the public last week with a live internet chat sponsored by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Although the spread of topics discussed range from the Rose Bowl to tuition, President Kaler gave us a little bit of hometown pride when he talked about food.
Ah, yes, food. Most people this century have a love-hate relationship with the physical nourishment that sustains us. But here at the University of Minnesota, it’s only love-love. The U does tons of research on food, finding the best ways to grow, deliver, and package it. Even when all the good parts are eaten, we compost it to restart its life cycle. “We have great strengths in the food area- I think we can be the Silicon Valley of discovery for the food industry, and work in that area will be a priority of mine,” President Kaler said in the online interview.
Food has been a big part of the University for many years now. University Dining Services has made a lot of efforts in the previous decade to use food as a sustainable resource. The U of M’s research has brought us the world-renowned delicious Honeycrisp apple (arguably the best “invention” we have to offer,) as well as tailored pesticide use among crops. It’s no secret that being tucked away in the rolling plains of Minnesota agriculture can bring a fostering environment to learning about food.
Eric Sannerud was the student that provoked the thoughtful answer from the President. Sannerud is an undergraduate with quite a few achievements of his own under his belt. He started the group “U Students Like Good Food,” and is also running his own Community Supported Agriculture farm this summer. He said the interdisciplinary nature of food in the university setting is what motivated him to ask the question. “Any major has a direct relation to food,” Sannerud said, and his statement couldn’t be truer. “Topics such as climate change, public health, and biotech all lead back to food,” he stated in the preface to his question. Although the plant geneticist down the street from our office might have different ideas than the business student on West Bank, they are all tied together through this un-ignorable issue.
It was “really exciting to see President Kaler’s remarks.” Sannerud was especially eager to hear that food at the University was not only something that crossed Kaler’s mind, but was also a priority of his. He also mentioned that having a highly influential member of the University community supporting their food programs “is like gold.”
Sannerud was not the only one who was excited about Kaler’s remarks about food. The Healthy Food, Healthy Lives Institute was bustling about his comment as well. The President directly mentioned their program, and also mentioned informal groups working on the “next steps.” The Institute is currently working with Sannerud on creating the first cooking class at the University, teaching “different techniques” surrounding food preparation. (If you’re interested in enrolling, the class is FSCN 3480.) The group is also sponsoring the “Food Day” event on October 23rd and 24th in Coffman. “I was excited to see that President Kaler recognizes the uniqueness of our University in its ability to innovate in the area of food and health,” commented Kristine Igo of the Healthy Food, Healthy Lives Institute. Igo believes that the U’s work with food “has the potential to improve public health, decrease health disparities, increase economic activity through innovative design and development.” It seems like we’re really on the verge of accomplishing something great here.
Even though his statement may seem exciting and revolutionary, it actually isn’t the first time he’s used it. He also used the term “Silicon Valley” of food in an interview with The Civic Caucus this spring, although he was referring to the entire Twin Cities rather than just the University. Apparently this is an issue that has been on Kaler’s mind for awhile.
So what does this mean for us? Well here at the Sustainability Education office, it means we can continue to expand the scope of sustainability at the U with the help of the President. The University partners with companies and governmental agencies to develop new biotechnologies that might be one solution for future agricultural production. General Mills, Kemps, and Land O’ Lakes are all located in the Twin Cities. Cargill, one of the largest companies in the world, frequently collaborates with U of M students and recently supported the construction of a Microbial and Plant Genomics building. They are working hard to educate our students on how we can change the frontier of food, and also how we can do it sustainably. We are really right in the middle of some of the biggest work and research in the food industry.
And what does it mean for everyone else? Well, you can certainly plan on hearing more about the University of Minnesota’s involvement with food in the future. Maybe in the following years, scientists will strive to be the “Mississippi River Valley” of computer development!
Written by Dominique Boczek