Food for our future -- it's more than what's for dinner

July 14, 2010

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Many of society's most challenging health issues, including obesity, nutritional shortages and chronic disease, are related to food. University of Missouri researchers are examining the multiple facets of food and how it impacts our lives - from medicine and research to policy and law to education and business.

Identified as an initiative in the Mizzou Advantage (During a three-year process, MU faculty, students and alumni identified MU's top competitive assets, or unique strengths, that set MU apart from other universities. These assets underlie five dynamic initiatives that collectively are called the Mizzou Advantage), "Food for the Future" capitalizes on MU's strengths in plant and animal sciences, its emerging research on aging, obesity, and chronic disease, and its food-related work in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Jo Britt-Rankin, the Food for the Future facilitator, is helping to engage stakeholders (researchers, faculty members, academic departments, businesses and other universities) in cultivating solutions to food-related issues.

"Food for the Future will connect researchers, programs and ideas, through common themes of food-related issues: plant and animal science; food production systems; food safety and biosecurity; overweight and obesity prevention; food, society and culture; and educational opportunities, such as study abroad and culture-immersion," Britt-Rankin said.

MU has allocated $6 million to increase the impact of the Mizzou Advantage by funding various projects driven by networks of collaborators (faculty members, centers, departments, corporate partners and other universities).

One of the first projects to be funded is "Food, Fuel and Society," an immersive and interactive multimedia workshop presented by MU faculty members from a range of disciplines. This project brings together faculty from MU Extension; the Missouri School of Journalism; the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI); KBIA-FM, MU's National Public Radio affiliate; the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; and the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.

The "Food, Fuel and Society" workshop will take place on the MU campus at RJI in the fall. The workshop will jumpstart a permanent network of experts, citizens and ideas that will make MU and its partners the national hub for quality information on issues involving the intersection of agriculture and energy, Britt-Rankin said.

A potential future Mizzou Advantage project is expanding food-focused study abroad trips. Faculty members from different schools and colleges, including arts and science, agriculture and human environmental sciences, are building relationships with international schools to identify educational travel opportunities. The goal is to offer unique and affordable ways for MU students to experience different cultures and world views in their fields of study.

"Faculty members along with the MU Study Abroad Program are exploring possibilities to offer more locations for students to travel and learn about food and culture," Britt-Rankin said. "For example, one possible idea is to expand the current course, "The Mediterranean Diet," to not only offer a course in Italy but add additional offerings in France and Greece. Expanding on the current course offering in Italy will enhance learning about culture, religion, family life, economy and agricultural production and their effects on food and diet."

Britt-Rankin believes Mizzou Advantage is a catalyst for collaboration and growth for the University of Missouri.

"We're just beginning to see some of the exciting connections among different researchers," Britt-Rankin said. "There are dozens of ideas for interrelated projects - such as the metabolic kitchen, which includes nutrition, cooking and science-based learning and practice opportunities for professionals in medicine, child development, dietetics and nutritional science. Mizzou Advantage is giving life to these proposals; it's amazing to see researchers from different fields collaborate and put action to ideas."

Mizzou Advantage was created to increase MU's visibility, stature and impact in higher education locally, statewide, nationally and around the world. The first round of grant funding, totaling more than $900,000, supports proposals that boost existing faculty and community networks, create new interdisciplinary collaborations, strengthen the student learning experience and propel Mizzou's research to the next level.
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University of Missouri-Columbia

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