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Sustainable Food Systems cohort examines the future of food systems under the Trump administration

The students and faculty of PSU’s new Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Food Systems gathered in January for their first cohort event. The certificate brings together students and faculty from diverse academic areas as a collaborative effort by the College of Urban and Public Affairs, the Graduate School of Education, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Business Administration, and the Institute for Sustainable Solutions. The event was an opportunity to meet each other over coffee and engage in a discussion about the future of food systems issues under the new federal administration.

Certificate co-director Megan Horst began the discussion on a high note, with a brief presentation highlighting progress relevant to food systems in recent years such as 40 states passing living wage ordinances, improvements in the fast food industry, jurisdictions passing a soda tax to raise funds for public health initiatives, and local movements led by activists for the Driscoll boycott and farmers in Bellingham, WA. Concerns about the impact of the new administration range from Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to the potential defunding of Barack Obama’s policies on healthy school lunches, among other things.

Daniel Wong, academic director of the Undergraduate Supply & Logistics Management Program, offered some insight about the often-demonized GMOs, using the examples of hypoallergenic cotton, drought-resistant crops, and vitamin-fortified food as some positive outcomes that have come from the controversial practice. Expanding the discussion, several faculty emphasized the need to address farmers’ real world concerns. Specifically, the challenge is finding a way for them to meet their bottom line, while making ecologically sustainable choices. There was a consensus that education and outreach, along with making a genuine effort to connect with the more conservative mainstream segment of the farming population, is key going forward.

Other concerns raised by faculty and students about the next four years were the uncertain future of the SNAP program, and the potential for universities and colleges to lose their autonomy as incubators of free thought through targeted funding cuts and changing tenure laws. In light of these challenges, it was agreed that keeping the Good Food Movement alive on a local level is essential to the future of sustainable food systems, and that includes being supportive and informed consumers.

Students enjoyed having the opportunity to talk about issues intrinsic to the program with their colleagues and professors, and future cohort events in the work include a farm visit and guest speaker series.