Category Archives: Faculty Spotlight

As a former professional chef in fine dining restaurants, Dr. Julia Wolfson (SPH) studies how food preparation, eating behaviors, and policy affect diet and health. Dr. Wolfson’s recent study about sodium in restaurant meals made headlines.

Julia Wolfson | Assistant Professor, School of Public Health

In what ways does your work relate to sustainable food systems?

My work focuses on both food outside the home (including neighborhoods, restaurants and other food environments), and inside the home, specifically home cooking. Through this lens, my research focuses on environmental, cultural, and social determinants of diet quality and health.

Recently, I have focused on the way people perceive the meaning of cooking, what it means to cook in today’s food system, and how we measure this kind of behavior. What we have found is that in the current food system the kind of food available on supermarket shelves impacts how people understand what it means to cook. When you ask people, “how often do you cook dinner?” the interpretation of that question varies considerably and, for many people includes highly processed convenience foods that are ubiquitous in the food environment. People point to home cooking as a way of inspiring dietary change, although for a lot of people not being able to cook or a lack of confidence in their cooking ability is a significant barrier to changing their diet. Consideration of cooking skills and behavior, in addition to structural issues around food access and affordability is important to make change in consumption behavior and creating a sustainable food system.

What is a project you are excited to work on?

I’m very excited about an upcoming project that will examine food preparation and procurement practices among low-income adults in Michigan who are pre-diabetic. This study will yield rich qualitative data about challenges people face in their daily food preparation and strategies they use to overcome such challenges. I am particularly excited about this because most research about cooking skills and behavior is based on self report, and in this study we will be directly observing participants cooking. Ultimately, this work will inform the development of targeted cooking skills interventions.

What does your grandiose vision for a more equitable, healthy and sustainable food system look like?

I hope that our society can enact policies to help to make healthy, sustainable, ethically produced foods, more affordable, accessible and desirable. Everyone should have access to kind of ‘good’ food, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they make. I envision the healthy, sustainable food choice the easiest choice to make. While this vision seems far away right now, just imagine if we had a food system that primarily produced food that is good for the environment, good for food system workers, good for the local economy, and was also good for the people who consume those foods!

For many people, food choices are based on taste preferences that begin in childhood and are developed over time. Given the daily burden of putting food on the table day in and day out for one’s self and one’s family, the need to prepare food (or not prepare it), is, for many, driven by whatever is the easiest, most affordable, and fastest options available. Smart food policies and widespread individual behavior change will both be needed to make a healthy, sustainable food system a reality.

Have any particular authors, articles or documentaries had a significant impact on you? Which one(s)?

“Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain was hugely influential on me. I read it before I started working in restaurants, and thought to myself, “now that’s the life for me!” I read it again after working in the NYC restaurant scene for a few years and it really holds up! Now that I’ve been out of the restaurant business for a few years I really miss it sometimes. When I do, I watch Chef’s Table or Top Chef (my guilty pleasure food show). On a more serious note, I’m particularly looking forward to the upcoming book “Making Modern Meals” by Amy Trubek , who is a friend and colleague. The book has just been released and will discuss home cooking and its history in this country.

What is a strong food memory?

My parents were good cooks and cooked all the time. I recall my dad tormenting me by cooking ‘bunny’ (rabbit stew) during a phase when I refused to eat “cute” animals. My parents used make a simple roast chicken with roasted potatoes, lots of garlic, rosemary and pine nuts in a white wine sauce. Pinenut chicken, as we called it, was a frequent staple of our dinner table and I still make it to this day. Whenever I make it, I’m reminded of family meals from my childhood! It was simple, delicious, my parents made it well (and often), and everyone in my family loved it.  

Upcoming Courses

  • US Food Policy and Public Health (HMP 617), Winter 2018
  • In Winter 2019, there will be a new food system course for undergraduate public health majors


A lover of fresh lychees and satellite imagery, Meha Jain is the fifth and most recent addition to the University’s Sustainable Food Systems cluster hire. Based at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, her innovative work uses satellite imagery to support smallholder farmers and to understand the decisions they make in the face of climate change and other resource stressors.

Meha Jain | Assistant Professor, School of Natural Resources

In what ways does your work relate to sustainable food systems? My work broadly tries to understand the impacts of environmental change and natural resource degradation on agricultural production and how farmers are responding and adapting to these changes. I seek to find ways to sustainably enhance production and incomes for farmers in smallholder systems that are being impacted by multiple shocks like climate change and natural resource degradation. My goal is to figure out ways to more efficiently use limited natural resources, to increase equity, and to sustain current levels of production.

 What is your strongest food memory? I have strong memories of eating fresh lychees and mangos in India as a kid. My family moved from India to Canada, and every five years we would visit extended family and spend the summers in India. My grandfather and uncles are farmers in Northern India in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and I remember walking around the farm picking fresh mango and lychees. After coming back to Canada, I would try to find lychees and mangos in the grocery store and it was just not the same!

How has being a part of the sustainable food systems cluster hire impacted your first year on campus? Both personally and research-wise, it has been great to join an existing community of people who are interested in the same sorts of issues and questions. I’ve coordinated with Andrew Jones (Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health and part of the Sustainable Food Systems cluster hire) to understand factors influencing farmer nutrition in India and with Jennifer Blesh (Assistant Professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment and also part of the cluster hire) to map changes in agricultural production in the US and link them to environmental impacts.

Tell us about your recent sustainable food system research. My lab takes a mixed methods approach where part of our work uses satellite data to map yield, crop type, and cropped area across large spatial and temporal scales. This is exciting because often times researchers and policymakers rely on coarse data available at the district and state scale. Satellite data allow us to develop the same data products but at a fine spatial scale. For example, my colleagues and I have mapped cropped area at a scale of 1×1 kilometer across India and mapped wheat yield at a scale of 30 meters across Northern India.

To complement the large scale agricultural production patterns from satellite date, my group and I conduct household surveys to understand the factors influencing farmer decisions. Specifically, we examine how farmers are perceiving and adapting to environmental change, like climate change and natural resource degradation.

What are some Ann Arbor, Detroit or University events, projects or organizations that you are excited about? FarmLogs is an innovative startup based in Ann Arbor that uses satellite imaging to improve farmer decision making, primarily on field to enhance agricultural production and yield. This technology assists farmers’ management decisions with information that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I think the work they are doing is very exciting and it dovetails into my work in India. Overall, we are both working with farmers to enhance sustainable food systems on the ground.

Catherine Badgley is a member of the advisory board of the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative and perhaps most well known for the seminal article she co-authored about Organic Agriculture and the Global Food Supply.  She is a vertebrate paleontologist, ecologist, bread baker, farmer/gardener, bee-keeper, and a tireless activist for a better food system and world.

Catherine Badgley | Associate Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Residential College, and Research Scientist, Museum of Paleontology

Where did you grow up? I was born in Pennsylvania, but I grew up along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta and then Colorado. I went to high school in Bethesda, MD and attended graduate school in New England.  


Photo: Lilly Fink Shapiro

What is your strongest food memory? When I was nine years old, my mother took our family to live in Brussels for the summer. Each day, I would walk to the corner bakery early in the morning and buy fresh rolls for my family. I fell in love with the smell and crackle of the rolls, and I still love the smell almost more than the taste of freshly baked bread.


Have any particular authors, articles or documentaries had a significant impact on you? Which one(s)? Wes Jackson—His work to reinvent grain agriculture based on ecological principles in native ecosystems is demonstrating that fundamental changes are possible.

Wendell Berry—His writing illuminates connections between the agrarian lifestyle and community impacts.

Richard Levins—He was a wise ecologist with a deep understanding of ecology and politics.

Frances Moore Lappé—”Diet for a Small Planet” was the first book to alert me to big myths in the industrial food system, and her vision and energy have remained an inspiration.

What are you currently reading? “The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health” by David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, which describes the relevance of microbes to soil health and human health. The book critically links agricultural impacts on microbes to food quality to the human microbiome and the immune system.   

In what ways does your work relate to sustainable food systems? As a vertebrate paleontologist, I’m interested in ecosystems of the past and how assemblages of mammals have changed in relation to environmental change. My lifelong fascination with biodiversity connects me to an interest in food systems. Today, the global declines in biodiversity are happening largely due to agricultural practices and our vast consumption of animal products. We need to transform the food system to become more sustainable in order to avert another mass extinction.


Tell me about your current research interests. In terms of food systems, I’m interested in biodiversity-friendly agricultural practices and the environmental impacts of food production.

In 1990, my husband and I purchased a farm near Chelsea. We wanted to understand the skills and effort needed to grow food organically, including how to live with the predators present in native ecosystems. Living in a farming community, I’m able to have candid discussions with other farmers about the challenges, stresses, and opportunities they are facing.

I’ve learned that if we are going to make fundamental changes in the food system, then we need to focus on access to food more than agricultural yields and change policies that are perpetuating the industrial food system. These changes would have tremendous ripple effects.

Do you have any advice for students interested in food-system careers? Understanding the food system requires many different kinds of knowledge; I recommend courses in ecology, agroecology, and an introduction to food systems, so that students acquire a grounded understanding of the breadth of the food system. Finding an internship, research project, or volunteer activity on a farm or with a non-profit group that is supporting local food systems will allow students to see the challenges and opportunities present in the food system. Finally, it is important that students understand the social and political aspects of the food system as much as the ecology of growing food.

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not researching/teaching/working? Outside—tending my half-acre garden, small orchard, honeybees, or chickens. I have some ongoing projects in creative writing. Also, I try to travel to one new place every year.

What classes are you teaching in the 2016/2017 school year? In the fall, I was a part of a faculty team teaching BIO 110: Introduction to Global Change–The Science of Sustainability and EEB 477: Field Ecology. During the winter term, I am teaching EEB 435: Biogeography and an experiential course (RCNSCI 300.001) called Alternative Futures in the Michigan Food System. 

Growing plants and animals is the cornerstone of Joe Trumpey’s creative practice. His passion for the environment and innovation drives his teaching methodology and focus on design that is less reliant on fossil fuel.

Joe Trumpey | Associate Professor of Art, Environment & Natural Resources

Where did you grow up? I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in Indianapolis. My environmental connection came from spending weekends in the forests of southern Indiana as a Boy Scout and as a pre-veterinary student working closely with veterinary hospitals.

imageWhat is your strongest food memory? When I was a high school exchange student in Norway, my morning breakfast was herring in tomato sauce on brown bread washed down with a glass of thick, soured milk. It was a major culture shock for a kid from the Midwest who usually ate cornflakes for breakfast and equated fish with fish sticks. I’ve been an adventurous eater ever since.

What are you currently reading? Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love by Simran Sethi—an exploration of the loss of biodiversity in the food system; and, The Emergent Agriculture: Farming, Sustainability and the Return of the Local Economy by Gary Kleppel—a collection of essays about local resilience and how to get young people engaged with the land.

Have any particular authors, articles or documentaries had a significant impact on you? Which one(s)? FARM SHOW magazine is a pragmatic look at innovation on the farm. The magazine allows subscribers to submit ideas and innovations related to conventional farming. Former UM Knight Fellow, Tracey McMillan’s The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table exposes the underbelly of the food industry to provide empathy with food workers we don’t usually think about.


What brought you to UM? I was technically trained in science illustration. My undergraduate degree is in art and biology, and my graduate degree is in medical and biological illustration. I was working at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University, when I was offered a position to teach medical illustration at the UM School of Art & Design. In 1994, I created an undergraduate degree program in science illustration.

In what ways does your work relate to sustainable food systems? In my teaching and creative work, I explore how to design resilient systems that consider the relationship between food, energy, and water and that transition systems to be less reliant on fossil fuel.

Tell us about your current research interests. I am interested in transition design, which is how materiality and food all intersect in building our culture. Right now, I’m spending most of my time writing a book about my farm/house. The book is stitched together with personal stories and homesteading recipes.

Do you have any advice for students interested in food systems careers? Get out there and do something in the food system! Try to find people that are doing good work and work alongside with them. On the ground experience is valuable for students with little or no pragmatic food/farm experience and it will help you understand the complexities and challenges of the food system. Growing plants and animals is a very creative practice, and once you get your hands dirty you will quickly understand the rewards and challenges of that work.

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not researching/teaching/working?Working on the farm is the cornerstone of my creative practice. My wife and I have been farming for 25trumpey2 years, and we haven’t purchased meat or eggs in 20 years. We have chickens, ducks, turkeys, sheep, goats, hogs, rabbits, cattle, a huge vegetable garden, and an orchard on the farm. Our original goal was to produce 50% of our food, and we’ve recently surpassed that by 10%. Our farm is off the grid and we think about energy the same way we think about food—we use what is “in season.”

What classes do you teach?

  • In the winter, I teach ArtDes 201/Environ 305: Sustainable Food Systems. In this course, students go on field trips to farms, slaughterhouses, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and dairies. I try to connect students with the production side of the food system.
  • In the fall I teach ArtDes 310: Engagement Studio, which is a Design/Build class. This past fall we built a park in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit, including a swing set, picnic shelter, raised garden beds for a pizza garden, and a pizza oven shaped like a groundhog. The 2016 course will be designing and building a strawbale warming shelter for the community.
  • In the spring, I teach AdAbrd 311/391: Eco Explorers—a social design-build sustainability course. We have designed and built improved cook stoves in Tanzania, worked with school kids in Ethopia, designed and built treadle pumps in Madagascar and partnered with communities in Gabon to pilot a variety of technologies and ideas around sustainable food, energy and water. I also teach ArtDes 401/402: BA Capstone, which is a two-semester capstone course for art and design students.

Influenced by “rebellious lawyering”, UM Law Professor Alicia Alvarez considers what justice means at all levels of the food system. Her clinic works with diverse client groups such as an urban farm, a farmer’s market, and a group that represents restaurant workers.  

Alicia Alvarez | Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Community and Economic Development Clinic, UM Law School

Faculty Spotlight – September, 2016

Where did you grow up? I moved from Cuba to the US when I was ten. My family lived in Miami for a year before settling in Chicago.


What is your strongest food memory? When I was traveling in Turkey last summer, I ate eggplant every day. Eggplant was everywhere. Residents would hang eggplant out of their windows to dry, and it seemed like every dish had eggplant in it.

What are you currently reading? “Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution” by Majorie Kelly and “Tales of a Female Nomad, Living at Large in the World” by Rita Golden Gelman.

Have any particular authors, articles or documentaries had a significant impact on you? Which one(s)? Gerald Lopez’s “Rebellious Lawyering: One Chicano’s Vision of Progressive Law Practice” has challenged me in my work.  

What brought you to UM? I was working at DePaul University College of Law when a friend at the UM Law School told me about an opening at the clinic. I saw the position as an opportunity for a new challenge and decided to apply.

Tell me about your law clinic. The Community and Economic Development clinic is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It started at UM as the Program on Legal Assistance to Urban Communities clinic. The clinic is a functioning law office where students provide legal services to community organizations in Detroit and the metro region. I am involved in all the decisions, but I mostly work in the background meeting with students each week to review their work.

The clinic puts students in the actual lawyer role. Students deal with the interpersonal aspects of lawyering in addition to the substantive and intellectual ones—how to balance multiple clients, how to communicate with diverse stakeholders, how to deal with uncertainty and how to adjust. I think no other class prepares you as well for the actual practice of law.


In what ways does your work relate to sustainable food systems? We work with organizations involved in the sustainable food movement. My clients have brought sustainable food systems work to me, and I have discovered the field through their eyes.

We work with an urban farm. We have worked with a farmer’s market and a group that represents restaurant workers. Having diverse clients helps us consider: What does justice mean at all levels of the food system? Some of the issues we’ve worked on include access to land, protecting names, and risk management. We worked with the Detroit People’s Food Cooperative in creating their entity. They are also exploring a physical space for a cooperatively owned grocery store in Detroit.

Do you have any advice for (law) students interested in food systems careers? Traditionally, working in the food system has meant working in the conventional agricultural industry or for large food companies. Today, the options are much greater.

Legal topics in food systems work are very diverse. Students need to be generalists, but they also need to understand the food sector and their client. When a lawyer understands their client, they can better understand the legal needs in the situation and how a lawyer would be of assistance.

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not researching/teaching/working? When I spent my senior year of college in Rome, I fell in love with traveling. Last summer I traveled to Turkey, and two years ago I traveled to Columbia. I also enjoy photography and learning new languages. I wish I had more free time to devote to those things.  

A lifelong activist, Dr. John Vandermeer has inspired hundreds of students to critically question the world around them. His empathy and solidarity with the oppressed has drawn him to work with groups such as the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Science for the People, and many other social justice organizations. In our interview, Dr. Vandermeer shares his passion for ecology and how his political outlook drives his science.

John Vandermeer | Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Where did you grow up? I grew up in a working class neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago.

What is your strongest food memory? Watching hundreds of hectares of tropical forest and small-scale agriculture being taken over by the industrial production of bananas. The image of bananas where there used to be rainforest is forever etched in my mind.

Have any particular authors, articles or documentaries had a significant impact on you? Which one(s)? Noam Chomsky’s books have profoundly affected my view of the world. His book “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” has informed my teaching methodology. The book explains how the US propaganda system works and discusses how important it is to include a political analysis in your work.

World Hunger: 10 Myths” by Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins dispels common myths related to food security. When the book was first released in 1977, it was the first of its kind to introduce such radical ideas about the world food system.

What are you currently reading? The Swerve: How the World Became Modern” by Stephen Greenblatt is about the 15th-century rediscovery of Lucretius’ poem “On the Nature of Things.” I just finished reading Noam Chomsky’s new book “What Kind of Creatures Are We?” I always read his books as they come out.

What brought you to UM? I was teaching at The State University of New York at Stony Brook before I came to the University of Michigan. In the early 1970s, the biology department had one of the best groups of ecologists in the country and I came here to work with them.

Tell us about your current research interests. My research lab is affiliated with Dr. Ivette Perfecto’s lab at the School of Natural Resources and Environment. Our labs look at the ecological complexity of the coffee agroecosystem—the largest ecosystem in the tropics. We study sustainability of production and the affect it has on the environment. Our graduate students and post-doctoral students work closely with us to study different components of this system. Our goal is to make coffee production more sustainable for small farmers and to lower coffee prices for consumers.

John_ivetteDo you have any advice for students interested in food systems careers? The biggest problems we face in the world today are food and energy—these systems go hand in hand. Between 17% and 30% of greenhouse gases are due to the industrial agriculture system, so part of solving the climate crisis is solving the agriculture crisis. Students should rethink traditional career pathways to include food and energy. If you want to go to law school, become an environmental lawyer. If you want to be a small business person, start a farm or a small grocery store. If you want to be a corporate executive, you’re on the wrong side of history.

Above all, students should follow their passions but continue the analysis of their guiding moral compass when deciding what career path to pursue.  

What classes are you teaching in Fall 2016? Since 1980, I’ve been teaching ENVIRON/BIO 101: Food, Energy and the Environment. I also teach EEB 498: Ecology of Agroecosystems, an upper level course for students that want to do research in agroecology.


Margot Finn | Lecturer, University Courses Division

When she isn’t teaching, Dr. Margot Finn can be found watching movies and reading IMDb. This isn’t your usual binge-watch—she analyzes mass media text in order to understand the U.S. food movement from the 1970s to the present. In our recent interview, she shares her insight on the intersection of food and culture.

Margot FinnWhere did you grow up? I was born in western Nebraska, but mostly grew up in the suburbs of Chicago.

What is your strongest food memory? My mom is a great cook and we cooked together a lot when I was a kid. One weekend when my dad was out of town, my mom decided to make an ice cream roll cake for his birthday. As my mom was on the final step, the cake completely fell apart and she collapsed into tears. Since the surprise cake was ruined, we decided to make the best of it. We grabbed forks, sat on the kitchen floor, and ate the cake out of the pan while the clock struck midnight.

Have any particular books, articles or documentaries had a significant impact on you? Rachel Laudan’s Cuisine and Empire traces the history of the five major world cuisines and dispels the myths we often hold concerning food. Historically, people mostly subsisted on grain porridge, and they had to deal with food shortages and food poisoning. Industrialization of the food system made people’s lives much better, and our demonization of the industrialized food system is short sighted.

The documentary Why are Thin People Not Fat? chronicles an overfeeding study of thin people. The film provides insight into the complexities of weight loss and weight gain.

What are you currently reading? I’m reading White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Borrow-Strain. The book explores how bread has been implemented in social issues, such as the women’s movement, healthism, and the stigmatization of poverty.

What brought you to UM? I started a Ph.D. in Literature at NYU in 2003, and then decided it wasn’t right for me. In 2004, I transferred to UM to start a Ph.D. in American Culture. After I finished my dissertation, I received an opportunity to teach at UM.

Tell us about your current research interests. I am interested in how people come to believe the things they do about food and how these beliefs change over time. I study the U.S. food movement from the 1970s to the present, though my work often references the gilded age (1890s to 1920s) as a historical comparison.

I mostly end up looking at mass media—so I spend a large part of my day watching movies and reading IMDb. My analysis is of mass media text (movies, television shows) and how people respond to mass media (online comments, blog posts). I look for patterns in stories and how audiences perceive the message. For example, Ratatouille and The Biggest Loser tell us that taste and the body are projects that we can control—but what do audiences members say about this?

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not researching/teaching/working? As a new mom, I spend a lot of time breastfeeding my one-month old. I also enjoy long walks, hikes, backpacking with my husband and friends, reading fiction, watching professional wrestling, gardening, canning, and baking bread.tahoe

Do you have any advice for students interested in food systems careers? Find people that are doing the work you want to do and schedule an informational interview with them. Ask lots of questions: “What do their jobs involve?”; “What do they wish they would have done differently?”. No matter the field, I’ve found that people often wish they had taken art history and practical classes like accounting.

What classes are you teaching in Fall 2016? As part of the Food Citizenship Project, I’ll be teaching a new PiTE freshman seminar course that looks at different aspects of the food system and engages students in experiential learning activities. I’m also teaching a seminar course on controversies surrounding obesity (UC 254: Obesity: The Science, Culture, and Politics of Fatness in America), and a food studies research methods class (Environ 302/UC 370: The Measure of Our Meals: Food Studies Research Methods) that covers life science analysis, ethnography, mass media analysis, and historical accounts.

Lesli Hoey | Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning & Sustainable Food Systems cluster hire

Dr. Lesli Hoey has a boundless energy and appetite for change that permeates her personal and professional life. As a dual citizen of Bolivia and the U.S., Dr. Hoey is interested in facilitating change in food systems, international planning and development.

Pickup_HoeyWhere did you grow up? Until I was 18, I lived in rural Bolivia, western Pennsylvania on my grandparents’ farm, and Little Rock, Arkansas.

What is your strongest food memory? My fondest memory is of my dad making cheese in Bolivia. I loved sneaking some of the salted curds just before he would press them!  

Have any particular authors, articles or documentaries had a significant impact on you? Which one(s)? Kicking Away the Ladder by Ha-Joon Chang and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn—for thinking about the role that power, evidence, and paradigms play in transformative processes. Also Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky and documentaries by the Yes Men—for demonstrating how social change often requires creativity and comedy.

What are you currently reading? I’m reading Carl Sagan’s Contact, but I just picked up two books from the library that I’ve always wanted to read—A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and Pedagogy of Hope by Paulo Freire.

What brought you to UM? The Sustainable Food Systems cluster hire was a rare opportunity, not only because it came with a ready-made interdisciplinary group of inspiring scholars, but also because it was housed in a well-regarded planning program that offered a concentration in international planning. I also happen to have a large number of extended family that live in Southeast Michigan—my maternal grandparents actually met in Highland Park.  

IMG_1762Tell us about your current research interests. Currently, I’m involved in two three-year projects and several smaller-scaled projects.

(1) One project in Bolivia, with two other Sustainable Food Systems cluster hires—Andrew Jones and Jennifer Blesh—is studying the links between obesity, undernutrition, food security, household food production and variations in urban, peri-urban and rural food retail and policy environments, in both mountainous and tropical regions of the country.

(2) I’m also the principal investigator for an external evaluation of a Kellogg-funded project being led by Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems, which is facilitating efforts to achieve the Michigan Good Food Charter goals by building statewide collaborations among emerging local food councils, food hubs, and local food purchasing initiatives.

(3) I also have several smaller pedagogy-focused research projects, to learn how to better prepare future international planning and food systems practitioners.   

Do you have any advice for students interested in food systems careers? Given how daunting the task of food system change can seem, it’s important to find an area where you can contribute most given your unique skills and energy. You don’t need a job title that says “food systems change agent.” You can integrate food systems into the mainstream of almost any field, by showing how efforts to build more sustainable, equitable and health-promoting food systems can also improve urban planning, public health, natural resource management, education, and many other sectors.  

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not researching/teaching/working? Traveling, going on road trips, hiking, running, dancing, sleeping, gardening, drawing, painting, cooking meals with friends, game nights…

P1000980What classes are you teaching in Winter 2016? The two courses I teach on food systems specifically will be next fall (2016)—“Foundations of Sustainable Food Systems”, an interdisciplinary course co-taught with Andrew Jones and Jennifer Blesh—and next winter (2017), “UP 525: Food Systems Planning,” which attracts students from planning, SNRE, SPH, SSW and many other fields.This term, I’m teaching “UP 658: Urban and Regional Planning in Developing Countries,” a foundational course for any student considering a future career in international development or urban planning in low-income countries, or who want to learn how global trends are linked to U.S. policies and cities. We only discuss food systems directly in one class, but many topics we cover relate to global food systems change.


Andrew Jones | Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health, Department of Human Nutrition & Sustainable Food Systems cluster hire

Dr. Andrew Jones has held many titles–geographer, filmmaker, pie-eating champ, researcher, professor, and now dad. Before the holidays, he took some time to tell us a little about each of these roles and how they have impacted his life and work.

Where did you grow up?  I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

What is your strongest food memory? My mother’s grandparents are from Lebanon. This meant we always had incredible Lebanese food at Christmas including kibbeh, tabbouleh, pita and grape leaves.

A more recent food memory is winning a pie eating contest at the UMSFP Harvest Festival. I ate a 2-pound apple pie in 8 minutes or so with just my face (no hands!).

12243268_791103407667210_3131676870248543897_nHave any particular authors, articles or documentaries had a significant impact on you? Which one(s)? The Control of Nature by John McPhee was the inspiration for my senior thesis as an undergraduate student at Penn State University. In my thesis, I combined my two majors, film production and geography, to produce a documentary film that examined why families choose to build homes and businesses in flood-prone regions. Understanding human interactions with the natural environment is still a fundamental motivation for my research today.

I also greatly admire the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris who is known for directing The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War, The Unknown Known, among many other films.

What brought you to UM? I joined the School of Public Health at UM in September 2013. I was excited to have the opportunity to work with the world-class faculty in SPH and to engage closely with my cluster colleagues, as well as the faculty in the Sustainable Food Systems Initiative. Ann Arbor is also a great place to live and raise a family.

Tell us about your current research interests. I try to understand how agriculture and food systems influence household food security, and the nutrition and health status of women and children in low- and middle-income countries. Within that broader focus, I study how the diversity of farms and agricultural landscapes affects food access, the quality of diets and health outcomes among smallholder farmers. Agricultural biodiversity may have direct impacts on the diversity of diets, or could have more indirect effects on food security and health through livelihoods and agricultural management practices.

A large part of my work is also centered on the nutrition transition that is occurring in low- and middle-income countries. I’m especially interested in understanding how changes in markets and food environments may be increasing susceptibility to food insecurity, as well as driving changes in patterns of disease among low-income families on the peripheries of cities in these countries. I have ongoing funded research in Bolivia, Peru, Burkina Faso and India examining these questions. I also have collaborations in several other countries, as well as in Michigan.IMG_0470 1

Do you have any advice for students interested in food systems careers?The field of food systems is quite broad so it’s difficult to give a single piece of advice. However, I’d say it’s important that students gain some depth of expertise in a specific discipline, while ensuring that they engage with other fields so that they are able to understand the broader context of the problems they are addressing and speak the languages of their colleagues. Students working in food systems will likely work within interdisciplinary teams during their careers, so bringing a specific expertise while also being able to collaborate is extremely important.

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not researching/teaching/working? I love changing diapers (laughs). Outside of work I spend as much time as I can with my 7-month-olddaughter, Rumi. I also design tabletop games. Like Cones of Dunshire from Parks and Rec? My wife and friends have often compared me to Ben Wyatt from Parks and Recreation. I would never compare my games to the genius of the Cones of Dunshire, but let’s just say it’s what I aspire to.

What classes are you teaching next? In the Fall 2016 term, I’ll be teaching “NUTR 555: Foundations of Sustainable Food Systems” with my colleagues Jennifer Blesh in the School of Natural Resources and Environment and Lesli Hoey in the College of Architecture and Urban Planning. In the Winter 2017 term, I’ll be teaching “NUTR 633: Evaluation of Global Nutrition Programs” and I’m developing a new course on domestic and international food policy (NUTR 622) that I’m very excited about.

Gina Baucom | Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology & Sustainable Food Systems cluster hire 

Ever wondered what genome structure has to do with the sweet potatoes on our Thanksgiving table? Or how morning glory plants have evolved into weeds? Dr. Gina Baucom and her research team have pondered these questions in the lab, out in the field and late at night. For our first faculty spotlight, Dr. Baucom answered a few questions that don’t require scientific research.

Baucom2Where did you grow up? All around the Southeast part of the United States–Chattanooga, TN, Lexington, KY, Bluefield, VA, and Hurricane, WV

What are you currently reading? Parable of the Sower by Olivia Butler

What brought you to UM? The dynamic nature of research in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department, the strength of the liberal arts program, and the progressiveness of Ann Arbor.

In what ways does your work relate to sustainable food systems? A number of the projects currently underway in my lab examine rapid evolution in the agricultural system. We focus on weedy plant characteristics that make them good competitors, as well as traits that allow them to persist following extreme selection from herbicides. Weedy plant infestations in crops reduce farmer’s yields, and as such around $26 billion dollars are spent per year trying to mitigate their influence. Researching the traits that make a plant a weed may help us to develop strategies for their control.

Do you have any advice for students interested in food systems careers? When choosing a program or a topic of study, do not pigeonhole yourself into a mindset that follows a “This is the way it has always been done” mantra. Look for a place that will allow you to broach new topics and ideas.

What classes are you teaching in Winter 2016? Biology 305: Genetics

Tell us about your current research interests. We are currently researching the genetics underlying herbicide resistance, the patterns of genome evolution across a landscape, and the potential for character displacement on below ground plant traits (roots). We use the common morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) and its relatives for these questions.

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not researching/teaching/working? Exercising, gardening, reading, and playing with my hilarious kids