ENGINE OF EVERYTHING
Across UCLA’s campus, food represents a powerful and accessible entry point into any field, with local, national and global repercussions. Nowhere is this clearer than in the recent creation of the UCLA Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies. Located in the division of undergraduate education, it will house UCLA’s food studies minor and support expansion of curricular and co-curricular activities while bringing together faculty, staff, students, chefs and community members.
A $13.5-million gift will provide ongoing funding for research, curriculum and resources, including the first endowed food studies librarian at a university, as well as hands-on experiential learning opportunities, a new chef-in-residence program and expansion of the UCLA Teaching Kitchen.
“The institute will also guide and inform public policy while addressing issues that impact us all, including food insecurity, climate change and advancing innovations in food systems,” says dean of the division of undergraduate education Adriana Galván. “By providing a means and the resources to explore these concepts, our students will have an unparalleled collaborative opportunity to enact true change.”
A UCLA political science alumna who became famous as TV’s “$5 chef,” Marcie H. Rothman was key to helping the institute take permanent shape, tracing its genesis back to her parents and sister, Bruins all.
“Food connects and sustains,” she says, “and the Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies will represent all of that and more for current and future students and faculty.”
Fittingly, biophysicist Amy Rowat, a pioneer in engaging general audiences and students with science via cooking, serves as UCLA’s inaugural Marcie H. Rothman Professor of Food Studies.
“I’m thrilled and grateful that this chair will support our vision of a world where we can produce delicious, nutritious foods to sustainably feed all,” Rowat says. “I’m also excited to expand my education research, using food to empower students to tackle complex societal challenges.”
One such challenge looks to the impending reality of cultured meat. The process involves cultivating animal cells in a lab — eliminating the need to kill any animal — to create an unlimited amount of genuine meat products, potentially engineered to be healthier for human consumption.
“Cultured meat is not commercially available yet, but it will be soon,” says A. Janet Tomiyama, an associate professor of psychology. “It could save the Earth, but humans have to adopt it, so the psychological aspect is crucial.”
Tomiyama and Rowat are part of an interdisciplinary team that published a paper outlining the potential challenges of bridging the gap between science and public perception.
“Food isn’t nutritious until it’s eaten — the decision to eat or not is important but not studied often,” says Tomiyama. “We make so many different decisions every day to eat this or not eat that. And people think about food all the time; they take pictures, talk about it. It seems natural to study what drives different eating behaviors.”