By Jonathan Riggs | June 6, 2022
Over a fresh farm-to-table meal courtesy of Lulu restaurant’s David Tanis and Alice Waters and the soundtrack of a UCLA student jazz group, members of the Bruin family gathered Monday, April 18 at the Hammer Museum to celebrate the launch of the UCLA Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies.
“Food is one of humanity’s few universally shared experiences, but questions about how to feed the world are some of the most complex and pressing issues of our time,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “These essential questions will be tackled by the Institute’s scholars and partners, who will take a holistic approach to understanding all there is to know about food and its impact on society.”
Guest of honor Marcie H. Rothman traced the night’s celebration all the way back to her parents, Ray and Shirley, who inspired her and her sister, Rita — all proud Bruins — to view the world with curiosity and to appreciate UCLA for the vast knowledge, impact and community spirit that epitomize its community.
When her own journey as a successful television chef and lifelong learner dovetailed with the opportunity to solidify UCLA’s global leadership in the food studies arena, Rothman was proud to help the Institute take permanent shape.
“Food connects and sustains, and the Institute will represent all of that and more for current and future students and faculty,” she said. “Tonight would have been my dad’s hundredth birthday, and I know both my parents would have considered news of the Institute the greatest gift they could have asked for.”
Dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education Adriana Galván took the opportunity to thank her predecessors, Judi Smith and Pat Turner, for paving the way for the division’s first institute and reflected on why this is such a transformational step for UCLA.
“It is clear to see that the building blocks of the Institute are as dynamic as they are interdisciplinary, and that’s what makes it so special,” she said. “The UCLA Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies will house UCLA’s popular Food Studies minor; provide ongoing funding for research, curriculum and library resources; and will bring together faculty, staff, students, chefs and members of the community.”
Galván went on to discuss how the global-leading work of the Institute will use food as a lens to guide and inform public policy while addressing wide-ranging issues, including food insecurity, climate change and advancing innovations in food systems, that impact us all.
“By providing a means and the resources to explore these concepts, our students will have an unparalleled collaborative opportunity and the experience of a lifetime to enact true change,” she added. “They will get to see how their work in the classroom translates to work in the real world.”
Renowned for pioneering the use of cooking as a medium to engage students and general audiences with science, biophysicist Amy Rowat shared her excitement for the new Institute, as well as her gratitude for being named UCLA’s inaugural Marcie H. Rothman Professor of Food Studies.
“I’m both thrilled and extremely grateful that the Marcie H. Rothman Presidential Chair will support my students’ food-based research to realize our vision of a world where we can produce delicious, nutritious foods to sustainably feed all,” Rowat said. “I’m also excited to expand my education research, using food to engage students in tackling complex societal challenges through interdisciplinary approaches.”
Rowat shared details from a new class she’s developing for the Institute’s Chef in Residence program, which includes studying historical narratives of enslaved Black chefs, learning about diffusion equations by marinating tofu, and exploring how soil pollutants can contribute to systemic health inequities.
“Food is truly such a powerful medium to engage students to become critical thinkers and advocates who will address pressing societal issues,” she said. “The Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies is a beacon of hope and innovation that will fortify this interdisciplinary food-focused approach to solve the challenges of our next generation.”
Famed KCRW “Good Food” host and restaurateur Evan Kleiman also spoke, describing how her life and career have been driven by curiosity focused through food, and how it can bring us into a better understanding of our humanity.
“My extreme focus on food made me kind of an outlier — it’s still hard to convince some people that food is worthy of serious academic study,” she said. “Recently, I asked Yale’s Paul Freedman why he thought that food was so often dismissed as an area of serious study. He replied that ‘materiality, necessity and repetition contribute to the apparent banality of food.’ I would say that this apparent banality is precisely why food is such a powerful holder of identity and culture.”
“The Institute has an exceptional opportunity to become a focus for deep interdisciplinary discussions of culture, community and how our decisions affect personal and planetary health,” Kleiman added. “Our health and wellbeing are linked to worldwide decisions about food production resources, and these decisions have consequences and costs regarding human health, poverty, justice and the natural world.”
As the evening drew to a close, Marcie H. Rothman led a toast honoring Alice Waters for being such a visionary UCLA collaborator while celebrating a bright future of many more efforts to come.
“I can think of nothing more important than connecting education and food,” said Waters. “The Rothman Family Institute has the potential to teach students the values we desperately need in order to live together on this planet: stewardship of the land, equity, community and nourishment. This edible education institute will be a prototype for schools in this country and around the world.”
Guests lingered over their dinners under the party lights in the trees, visibly inspired by discussions of the UCLA Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies and its limitless potential.
“Thank you for joining us to launch an institute that will not only challenge the way we look at our plates, but will also reframe how we see our neighborhood stores, farms, supply chains, restaurants, and more,” Chancellor Block concluded. “This is a spectacular specialty that will really define UCLA and bring about important change.”