Food Studies

Dickinson College Food Studies Certificate Program

Month: September 2016

SEEDs of Change

Dickinson welcomed Chef Hugh Acheson earlier this month as part of the inaugural weekend of the Food Studies Certificate and Clarke Forum fall lecture series. Chef Acheson was the guest chef at the college farm’s monthly pop-up restaurant, GATHER, and participated in several discussions on his newly developed home economics curriculum, SEED Life Skills, with students and faculty. With course content designed for middle and high school aged students, SEED reintroduces crucial knowledge for living independently, like cooking nutritious meals from scratch and reading the terms of a lease, back into the classroom.

Acheson’s program is the epitome of a community-level response. By inserting himself in the classroom, Chef Acheson’s goal is to empower students with the home economics and cooking knowledge to make better choices around food. Students can become the generation of consumers that will change our food system if they choose homemade meals over prepared foods, make the effort to create family and community ties around culinary experiences, and re-evaluate the push and pull of convenience.

Dickinson students and faculty joined their guest in a meeting of the minds, an opportunity for conversation revolving around SEED and its influence on lifestyle choices of millennials. Jenn Halpin introduced Chef Acheson after which he opened the floor for conversation of his new program and domestic hunger on a larger scale. Discussion touched on a range of issues including social norms in the kitchen, domestic versus professional, and Hugh’s experience bringing his curriculum to the classroom.

The conversation brought SEED out of the classroom and framed the program as one part of our greater food system.  Faculty and students brought up structural obstacles that small programs, like SEED, working toward positive change may encounter. For some, convenience is too valuable or entrenched in their lifestyle to easily sacrifice. Multiple jobs and responsibilities, especially under pressure of low wages, coupled with familial responsibilities of managing the home and taking care of children, may make a communal, home-cooked meal impossible. Furthermore, limited access to fresh ingredients, whether because of the price or geographic barriers, places further restrictions on a family’s ability to prepare and enjoy food together.

Faculty and students agreed that SEED was an admirable program but they pushed Chef Acheson to address the structural issues in our greater food system. Consequently, limited consumer choice, particularly among communities of low socioeconomic status, came to the forefront. Those criticizing the larger system suggested that the choices that poor people have are extremely limited by the wealthy minority of individuals/corporations who hold a disproportionate amount of power and by larger structural forces. This was the topic over which major disagreement arose. Chef Acheson argued that it is irresponsible and elitist to tell the poor that they are powerless, interpreting it as dismissing their voices to be meaningless. His opposition agreed that the poor should not be seen as powerless but it should be recognized that their power is significantly limited by the decisions which they are allowed to make…and the choices they have in those decisions.

Hugh Acheson is first and foremost a chef; however he argued that he was being asked to solve all the problems plaguing our food system. Chef Acheson was clear that his contribution to mending our broken system exists at the community-level and felt that criticisms of SEED suggested that his work was insignificant. Understandably, he was upset. I was upset. The faculty and students were upset. It is discouraging to be faced with the feeling that the problem you are most passionate about is insurmountable. However, it is framing the food reform in this way, as a single problem with a single solution, which is our downfall. The problem as a whole may be insurmountable, no sweeping solution would solve all of the issues with the food system, but individual efforts can come together to make noticeable change.

What do these “efforts” look like? For one, increasing the minimum wage. Individuals that make up the lower socioeconomic classes are also those that are most victimized by our food system. By increasing income, these individuals and their families can make more decisions and have more choices. Parents may no longer work two jobs. Instead, they can spend time at home cooking homemade meals, building family around food, and teaching their children to do the same. Furthermore, if government subsidies are redirected from commodity crops (corn, soy, and wheat) into fresh produce, these families can afford more and healthier ingredients for their homemade meals. Removing subsidies from crops like corn and soy, that are used to produce high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oil, results in higher prices of processed foods. The choice between fresh fruits and vegetables and manufactured snacks is no longer dictated by affordability. Chefs and teachers, including Hugh Acheson, are contributing by teaching domestic science and ensuring that students know how to use fresh ingredients when they become available. Regardless of what the effort looks like, we must understand that no one solution will solve all of our problems. Instead, we can become informed and take responsible action, becoming an interweaving thread in a web of change.

Food Studies 201: Terroir and Taste



After a discussion of soil tilth and terroir led by Professor Halpin, students participated in a ravioli workshop with Professor Luca Trazzi.

This Week in Food 9/25/16

Welcome, Fall! The first official week of autumn is nearly to an end and we in the Food Studies Department are watching celebrations of the harvest take place all over campus. Here are some food related stories to keep us conscious of this magical time of year…

  1. The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened yesterday. The new addition to the Smithsonian family is home to a variety of artifacts, 37,000 of them to be exact. Many of these items celebrate the unique culinary culture of African American heritage, a tradition that the museum operators have striven to encapsulate in the visitor’s entire experience, from exhibit to food court.
  2. Our very own Dickinsonian, Vaughn Gooding has made his debut in the world of food. Check out his homemade guacamole here.
  3. It’s fall and that means PSL season. So why is pumpkin spice so popular and what are the origins of this crowd pleasing flavor combo?
  4. Did you get out to the farm for the Harvest Festival this past Friday? Dickinson’s celebration of fall is one of many in a long string of cultural traditions.

Eco-Conscious College Students Befriend Vegetables

Guest Author: Cindy Baur ’16

Grease soaked vegetables.  Refried beans.  French fries. Mac and cheese.  These were the vegetarian options offered in the cafeteria that sparked Pro Veg, a group of students who wanted to improve and expand vegetarian options on campus.  The group formed as sort of a sub-movement of the Food Advisory Council, a collection of faculty, Dining Services staff, and students that meets about once a month to discuss Dining Services related topics.

Originally I was inspired to found Pro Veg by a trip to the Hazon Jewish Food Festival in Philadelphia.  At the festival I sat in on talks about Kosher butchering and I found myself considering a more mindful approach to eating meat.  Many people at the festival were approaching topics from an activist standpoint and I left feeling encouraged.  Dickinson calls itself a sustainable institution and in many ways it is a leader in sustainable initiatives, especially when it comes to food.  However, as I reflected upon the food choices available at Dickinson I realized that we could be doing so much more.  I felt that Meatless Mondays could be a great option for Dining Services to pursue to reduce Dickinson’s carbon footprint and to encourage others to take a break from meat one day a week.  I knew certain groups of students on campus wouldn’t be thrilled, such as athletes, but I felt that with the right approach, students would realize that meatless options can be just as protein-rich as actual meat.

The first step was to find other students interested in promoting vegetarianism on campus.  I started by emailing people I knew would be interested: student farmers, Baird Sustainability Fellows, and members of Asbell Cooking Club (a club that cooks vegetarian meals once a week).  I ended up with an email list of 13 people.

At our first meeting, about five people actually showed up.  During our discussion I quickly realized that pursuing Meatless Mondays at Dickinson was going to be a much more difficult task than I had imagined.  Students in the group pointed out that Meatless Mondays wouldn’t be well received by the entire student body, especially because it presents vegetarianism as the only moral choice.  In other words, if you eat a vegetarian diet, you are a better person.  As a group we came to the conclusion that it was not our place to force people into certain food choices.

We decided that starting by making vegetarian options better and more abundant would be a much better approach to starting the process of increasing vegetarianism on campus.  Our strategy was to make vegetarian options so available and irresistible that people wouldn’t even realize that they would be skipping out on eating meat.  We decided to call ourselves Pro Veg.  I timidly brought our ideas to Dining Services.  How could I, a senior living off-campus and without a meal plan, have any sway in what is served in the caf?  During my first meeting with Errol Huffman, the director of Dining Services, I quickly realized that Dining Services cares a lot about what students want.  As Errol told me, they’re in the business of pleasing customers and if their customers want more vegetarian options, they would try to provide that.

After a few more meetings with Pro Veg members and Dining Services representatives we decided that the best way to capture how Dickinson students feel about current vegetarian options would be through a survey.  Errol sent me the four-week menu rotation with every single item served in the caf.  Pro Veg members and I designed a survey around the menu, asking students to list their favorite and least favorite options and to use requests for open space to give constructive criticism and to make suggestions for improvement.

We sent out the survey and received 264 responses.  We found that most students surveyed rarely feel like there are enough vegetarian and vegan options in the caf.  Students said that they did not think there were enough protein options for a vegetarian and they often still felt hungry after eating a meal.  Survey respondents easily pointed out their dissatisfactions with the caf but did not use the open-ended spaces of the survey to give constructive feedback.  If you’d like to see all of the responses, click here and select responses at the top of the page.

After the survey closed and Pro Veg had a chance to sift through the results, I sat down with Errol and head chef Richie Rice.  Both Errol and Richie were receptive of the survey.  In fact, Errol had already given Richie the assignment of adding 100 new vegetarian menu items to the menu rotation for the 2016-2017 academic year.

I think the survey taught me that there is no way to please everyone, that there is no perfect solution to any problem and that sometimes people do not have the same interpretation of a problem. The whole Pro Veg process also taught me students have more power on campus than they may realize.  Without much effort I was able to come up with an idea, find other students who supported my idea, and meet with Dickinson staff to talk about those ideas and I think that’s pretty damn cool.

Food Studies 201: Field Trip to Three Springs Fruit Farm

On Monday, 9/20, the students in the Introduction to Food Studies Seminar spent their class time in Adams county talking with Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm. Discussion topics covered everything from Integrated Pest Management to the growing popularity of hard cider. Take a peak at some of the photos from our field trip:

This Week in Food 9/18/16

Another week, another round of food news. Check out the links below for exciting updates about developments in the world of food! 🌱🌱🌱

If you follow as many chefs and food businesses on social media as I do, it will not have escaped your notice that this weekend was Feast Portland. In its fifth year, Feast Portland aims is “partnering with Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, focusing on raising awareness for their efforts to expand school breakfast participation in Oregon schools.” Read more about the chefs, tastemakers, and distillers involved in this event including the very near and dear Hugh Acheson.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! This past Thursday was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday of the lunar calendar. Traditionally, the day is celebrated by indulging in a mooncake, round pastries made of red bean or lotus paste filled with a salted egg yolk.

Sugar vs. Fat…is it a question of the lesser of two evils?

Hunger effects one in every six Americans. Insufficient energy and nutrients takes its toll on individuals in a variety of ways. Read about the social consequences of youths left hungry here.

The World Food Made Video Recording

Did you miss the public lecture delivered by Dr. Raj Patel on September 8th? Were you there and would like to hear Dr. Patel’s informative and inspiring lecture once more? Follow the link below to a complete video recording of the Clarke Forum’s inaugural lecture of the Fall 2016 Semester: The World Food Made.


This Week in Food 9/12/16

Hello, Dickinson Foodies! This past week was brimming  with amazing opportunities for the food lover, food activist, and food eater on campus. As we gear up for the third week of the semester, keep an eye out for some reflective content coming your way on our special guests Hugh Acheson and Raj Patel. Until then, enjoy this highlights from the food industry:

-Will the “sniff test” become a thing of the past? Possibly, at least where milk is concerned. Read about the new technology that tells you when your milk is over the edge.

-Was our first president the first composter? Hardly! But he was a heck of a good one. Read about the history of compost and how to start your own compost bin/pile.

-Dickinson celebrated its 233rd Charter Day Anniversary this past week. In celebration, take a look at what revolutionaries were feasting on within a decade of Dickinson’s founding.

-What effect is food deflation having on national grocery chains? Read more here.

If you have any suggestions for our next addition of “This Week in Food,” comment below or send a link to

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