In July, Associate Teaching Professor Mary Kiernan was inducted into the American Academy of Chefs (AAC), the honor society of the American Culinary Foundation (ACF). The ACF was established in 1929. Today, the professional chefs’ organization boasts 17,500 members and more than 150 chapters throughout the U.S. See the full list of 2017 AAC inductees online.
“It is the highest honor for me to be recognized by my colleagues in the culinary world,” says Chef Kiernan. “We all work hard to elevate the profession of the chef. To be able to stand side-by-side with this esteemed group of chefs, who continuously promote scholarship so that others may choose this path, is by far my greatest achievement.”
Prior to her current role as Associate Teaching Professor in the Falk College Department of Public Health, Food Studies, and Nutrition, Chef Kiernan held other roles within Syracuse University. She first came to SU in 2000 to work in Carrier Dome Catering where she managed 42 private suites and numerous other functions related to games and floor dinners. She became an instructor in Hospitality Management in 2007 and received her IMBA at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management in 2012. She also holds a bachelor of science in hospitality management from Florida International University in Miami.
A hectic newsroom isn’t exactly where one would expect to come across food studies students, but that’s just where you’ll find them at the LongHouse Food Scholars Program in Upstate New York. The two-week residential program describes itself as a “food media boot camp” that provides hands-on training in writing and multimedia, as well as mentoring and networking opportunities for aspiring food journalists, activists, academics and entrepreneurs. Food studies alumnus Collin Townsend ‘17 says the LongHouse Food Scholars Program gave him a broad range of learning experiences, as well as valuable connections he still corresponds with.
Townsend graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2011 and worked in New York City as a professional chef before moving to Syracuse in 2014 to open his own restaurant. Still, Townsend felt something was missing. He decided to pursue higher education, and was drawn to the food studies program at Syracuse University.
Syracuse University’s Falk College takes a unique approach to food studies. With a specific focus on food as a system, the program incorporates topics such as food production, governance, sustainability, and security. “Food is such a complex issue, with dynamic ties to one’s culture, family, and status within society,” says Townsend. “Every aspect of human society, one way or another, is impacted by food. If you find yourself wondering why there are gender disparities, you can look at food. If you question why there are different classes within society, food can shine a light on the subject. If you have ever just looked down at your plate and thought, ‘Who the heck grew this?’ food studies can help explain it.”
Through his coursework, Townsend says he has been exposed to a number of fascinating topics. For him, the most interesting has been food sovereignty. “Empowering people and communities to have total control over their food in every shape and form from seed to plate is a truly remarkable theory that I have found to be a righteous cause to advocate for.”
One of today’s most pressing global issues, Townsend believes, is the consolidation of food production. “Consolidation within the agriculture, processing, production, and marketing sectors has put enormous power into a very small number of corporations’ hands,” he explains. “While this has made food more readily available than ever before in human history, it has also created a scary dynamic in which most humans are completely removed from what they put in their body.”
Townsend says that the mentorship of his professors in food studies has inspired him to continue his education and become a professor. “A large number of people view food more as an inconvenient necessity, rather than something that makes us uniquely human,” says Townsend. As a professor, Townsend hopes to share his passion for food with his future students.
Dean Diane Lyden Murphy, along with the faculty and staff of Falk College, congratulates the Class of 2017! We are excited to see where your careers take you. Remember that you are “forever orange” and will always be a part of Falk College and Syracuse University.
As alumni, you will now receive FalkTalk, Falk College’s email newsletter for alumni, parents and friends. FalkTalk keeps you up-to-date with news headlines, student highlights, and upcoming events delivered to your inbox at the end of each semester.
As the sun rises over the boundless field, drops of dew shimmer atop rows of lettuce, tomatoes, and radishes. A farmer swiftly harvests the vegetables one by one and gently places them in boxes with red and green type. Within an hour, the packages are en route to 13 different locations throughout Central New York, including Syracuse University. As they arrive, a young woman rides across the SU campus on her vintage blue bicycle and picks up her small box of vegetables from the farm, as she does every week. She piles the generous amounts of potatoes, kale, fennel, leeks, and delicata squash into her wire basket and pedals off with enough vegetables to last her the next seven days. Throughout the next two hours, 37 additional Syracuse University students and faculty will arrive to gather their share of produce.
Each Thursday, Common Thread Farm, located in Madison, New York, delivers local, organic produce to the University for members of a CSA (community supported agriculture) program. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, members of a CSA program pledge to contribute to the anticipated costs of running a farm and the farmer’s salary for the growing season, which provides a sense of financial security for the farmer. In return, members receive shares of the farm’s produce, but they run the risk of receiving poor harvest due to detrimental weather or pests.
The CSA program at Syracuse University is the product of the SU organization BrainFeeders.
In the spring of 2015, then-seniors Lindsay DeMay and Imelda Rodriguez created BrainFeeders after they realized the only way for students and faculty to buy fresh produce on campus was by taking the bus to the Central New York Regional Market. The duo then decided to partner with Common Thread and begin their own CSA pickup location at SU, which they launched in the fall of 2015. The program now boasts 40 members.
“When you hand people veggies, they go nuts,” says President Will Cecio. “They love it. This club is actually starting to make an impact on campus, trying to get people to cook more, eat healthy, eat more local and seasonal vegetables.” Throughout the nine-week program, members receive a box full of various seasonal vegetables. They choose between small boxes, which contain four to five types of vegetables and cost $150 for the nine weeks, and large boxes, holding eight to 10 kinds of vegetables for a price of $280. Felice Ramallo, secretary of BrainFeeders, says that although the prices seem steep, members may get five of each type of vegetable, which ends up being a bargain. “If you were to go to the grocery store and get this many veggies, it would be like, 50 bucks for a small box because these are organic,” she says. “In fact, this is probably less than if you were getting non-organic as well.”
Though Common Thread is not USDA certified as organic, it is recognized as organic by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. Cecio explains that becoming USDA certified is often an extra expense to the farmers. Individuals who visit the farm can see they practice organic and sustainable techniques, such as using compost fertilizers or natural pesticides, he says. Besides providing fresh, naturally-grown vegetables to students, the boxes introduce the program’s members to new food and allow them to expand their cooking savvy. Participants may learn to cook healthy and tasty alternatives to classic dishes, or get creative with their ingredients—pumpkin pancakes, anyone?
“We want to increase people’s awareness in general of what they’re putting into their bodies,” says Ramallo. “Not just their health, but where it’s coming from, and who it’s impacting other than themselves.”
Together with a number of Syracuse University programs, Falk College’s Food Studies program presents a screening of Out Here, a documentary film about the hearts and hard work of queer farmers in the U.S., followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker, Jonah Mossberg, Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in Heroy Auditorium from 5 to 7:30 p.m. The screening is free and open to the public.
Created by the Queer Farmer Film Project, the full-length documentary film illuminates the lives of queer farmers in the U.S. “Food Studies is excited to host Jonah Mossberg and his film Out Here,” says Elissa Johnson, Food Studies internship coordinator. “Although Out Here focuses on gender and sexual identity, this project ultimately highlights the intersectional identities of farmers in the U.S., and examines the important connections between food, identity, and community.”
“As a rapidly emerging field of study, Falk College’s Food Studies program explores food and its vital influence on culture, public health, the environment, and beyond,” says Diane Lyden Murphy, dean of Falk College. “Together with a number of Syracuse University groups, Falk College Food Studies is pleased to present a screening of Out Here, which brings awareness to and understanding of the lives of the United States’ queer farmers.”
This documentary film screening is presented by Falk College’s Food Studies program; Maxwell School’s Department of Sociology and Department of Anthropology; the College of Arts & Sciences’ Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and the Lesbian Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies program; the Syracuse University Humanities Center; and Brain Feeders, a student organization in Falk College’s Food Studies program.
For more information about the March 28 Out Here screening, contact Elissa Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food studies assistant professor Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern, Ph.D., comments on issues of immigrant labor and American food systems in light of the nation’s recent and potential policy changes in “What Would America’s Food Supply Look Like Without Immigrant Labor?”
In the Munchies article, Dr. Minkoff-Zern explains, “We are dependent upon undocumented immigrants and we have been for a long time, so there’s this real contradictory nature where on the one hand people want to see them gone, and on the other they want food cheap. Our food system, where we really have access to a lot of cheap food, is dependent upon low-wage labor, and that is dependent upon a source of undocumented workers who don’t have the ability to help themselves.”
Dr. Minkoff-Zern’s research and teaching broadly explores the interactions between food and racial justice, labor movements, and transnational environmental and agricultural policy. This focus builds on her extensive experience with sustainable development and agricultural biodiversity projects abroad, combined with work on migrant health issues domestically.
Torrey Grant, adjunct professor of the famous Beer and Wine Appreciation class, has a deep-seeded relationship with the Syracuse food and drink scene and the growing wine industry in the Finger Lakes region of Central New York. After graduating from Syracuse University in 1997, Grant stayed in the city to pursue a job in the restaurant business but eventually found his way back to SU. In addition to teaching, he works as the fine wine and event coordinator at the local liquor store, Liquor City. An advocate of the unconventional – like pairing Champagne and hotdogs – Grant has melded his trained palate with Syracuse’s homely, simple nature.
Q: Did you ever see yourself staying here in Syracuse, let alone teaching at SU? A: No – when I was in school, because I worked off campus at a bar downtown, I became friends with a lot of people from the area. I had a pretty good job, and then in 1999 I got a really good job managing a restaurant, so I just stayed and all of a sudden it’s 2016.
Q: How did you get involved with teaching? A: It’s funny, I knew people in the position and I used to get lunches with them, so I knew the class was here, but I never took it. But two years ago, oddly enough, this girl I used to date sent me the posting and was like ‘they’re looking for part-time faculty.’ So I was like ‘alright’ and I threw a CV together because I hadn’t applied for a job in a few years at that point. It started out with two sections last semester, three this year and I’m doing four next semester. I teach at [Liquor City], which is my favorite day of the week there. I love doing this – I like the balance between the two.
Q: This class is super popular. Are there any challenges that exist in teaching it? A: Yeah I think so. Last semester, my first semester, we taught from the curriculum that was already established because I got hired the week before class started, and I was actually out of the country. So I didn’t really have an opportunity to change it – and I could tell it hadn’t been changed in a number of years. There was no mention of Spain, no mention of Argentina, really. I can see why the former professor, who was beloved and did a great job, didn’t change it every year because it’s a lot work. But to keep it relevant, you have to change the class along with the industry. I want it to be relevant every single semester, and I also want it to be relatable.
Q: Alright let’s get into some wine questions – how would you describe the wine scene here in Central New York? A: Um, it’s a little weak. I wish there were a few more places that offered a well thought out wine list – even if it’s just ten wines. I think Alto Cinco does a great job, but there are a lot of restaurants that I can go into and open their wine list and tell you who put it together, like which distributor helped them with it, because all of the wines are from one company. I think the scene is getting there because there are people who want it. I just wish there was less reliance on big brands that you can see everywhere you go.
Q: So a cider, is that closer to a wine or a beer? A: It’s kind of in the middle. Beer is harder to make than wine because you have to convert starch to sugar before you make it. Whereas grapes and apples have their own natural sugar. It’s probably still closer to wine, other than the fact that you are going to carbonate it. It’s mostly sold and marketed as beer but I see ciders that come across my desk every day that are put into wine bottles.
Q: Central and Upstate New York is kind of seen as beer country – do you think there is room for wine? A: Definitely. Buffalo and Rochester have seen it more so than Syracuse. I think there’s room for it but, in all honesty, it shouldn’t be up to the consumer – it should be up to the people running the restaurants, the bars and the taverns to introduce people to that. You have to create a market. There were people here that wanted it, but were driving elsewhere to get it.
Q: Do you work closely with any vineyards or wineries up here, or do you stay impartial? A: Yeah, I do [work with them]. Of course the Finger Lakes are only an hour away, so I’ve gone and worked harvest a couple of times in different places. I just went down and did a dinner at the James Beard House a couple weeks ago where I took all New York state wines. I went to the wineries and they were very eager to jump on board with that, so I’ll take a few cases and showcase them in Manhattan. It’s funny though – Manhattanites are much more fond of our wines than people in Syracuse. Syracuse is the hardest market. Finger Lakes wines do great in Rochester; they do great in Manhattan – Syracuse has this weird ‘not in my own backyard’ mentality.
Q: If someone wants to buy a local Finger Lakes wine, what would you suggest? A: The Finger Lakes have made their name on Riesling. Ravines is probably my favorite winery in the Finger Lakes. Morten Hallgren came from Provence, from a centuries-old wine-making family, he did apprenticeship in Bordeaux, and he makes dry Rieslings and Chardonnays that are wonderful. Fox Run is awesome, Keuka Spring too – they got Winery of the Year this year. This summer was a great year. Grapes aren’t like tomatoes, they like a drought. I think you’ll be able to look at the 2016 wines and they’ll be really, really good – reds especially, but also whites.
Q: What is the biggest mistake you see when people come into Liquor City and say they want a “good” wine? A: The biggest mistake I see is that they think there is a certain thing that they are supposed to be getting. They should just get what they like. The funniest comment I get all the time is ‘Oh, I’m sorry I don’t know much about wine’ and my response to that is that if everyone knew a lot about wine I would be unemployed. People have this preconceived notion that they are supposed to like something, and they’re not – you’re supposed to like what you like.
Growing Pains: Lack of affordable and accessible nutritious food poses questions to residents of Central and Northern New York
By Kristina Atsalis ’18 and Caroline Bartholomew ’18. Courtesy of 360 Magazine.
Winter is coming soon, and for many people that means breaking out winter coats and boots. However, for many Syracuse residents the arrival of winter brings additional stress in the search for fresh food. Although farmers are finding new ways to continue food production year-round, it still isn’t always easy for people to find access to fresh food in this city.
According to the Food Bank of Central New York, one in every seven people in central and northern New York live with food insecurity. Three out of every ten households in Syracuse qualify for food stamps and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, according to CNY Fair Housing.
In addition to its high poverty levels, Syracuse is also considered a food desert, which the United States Department of Agriculture defines as areas “vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas… largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”
To help combat the city’s lack of fresh food, several organizations have initiated programs. Syracuse Grows, a group that aims to make fresh food more accessible through community gardens and urban farming, was founded in 2008. It works to provide people with various ways to get involved in the development of the community, according to Dr. Evan Weissman, co-founder of Syracuse Grows and assistant professor of food studies at Syracuse University.
“It takes existing resources in the city of Syracuse and leverages those and puts them into conversation,” he says. “It’s a strategy for addressing vacant land and for increasing democracy in the food system.”
Syracuse Grows does not own and did not start any of the community gardens, but instead is based entirely on partnerships with neighborhood groups, local foundations, Syracuse University and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Since its founding, the number of gardens has expanded from three to at least 25. Syracuse Grows is considered an expert in central New York in terms of food justice and community gardens, Weissman says.
Supporting food justice, the idea that a community should be directly involved in their local food system, is one of Syracuse Grows’ main principles. Food justice also addresses the idea of democracy in the food system and prioritizing public health and sustainability before profits.
“We sort of take it as a notion that people should have adequate access to healthful foods,” Weissman says. “But food justice also includes labor inequality in the food system, and that access to food should not be dependent on other people’s charity. It’s about a food system that is resilient and oriented towards people’s needs, not towards profit.”
In addition to growing food, many of the community gardens offer employment to teenagers in the neighborhood and programming for children and senior citizens.
Another strategy to address the problem is mobile markets. Like grocery stores on wheels, mobile markets are essentially food trucks that travel to food desert areas, but instead of selling fast food, they sell fresh produce. One of Weissman’s primary areas of research is mobile markets in Syracuse and the effect they’ve had in increasing accessibility to fresh and healthy foods. He is currently working on a survey to see how mobile markets operate across the country.
Weissman said that as of now, the results are mixed. On one hand, people who take advantage of the mobile markets benefit greatly, especially senior citizens and people who don’t have cars. On the other hand, the costs to start and keep the markets running is not always offset by the profits from selling healthy food. While major grocery stores sell all sorts of products to generate profits, the profit margins for healthy foods is very thin, which makes it hard for the mobile markets to make enough money to keep running.
“Like other sorts of non-profit food system interventions, they become reliant on grant dollars and philanthropy,” Weissman says. “The model itself was created initially to sort of move away from those sorts of charity-based models, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be economically viable for mobile markets to sustain in the long term without outside capital.”
On the other side of food insecurity is the many farmers in the Syracuse area who don’t always have a place to sell their produce. With a lack of grocery stores, farmers are having to find alternative ways to sell food differently than large chains like Wegmans. As part of the solution, farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs have been popping up to provide a direct connection between farmers and the people buying their food.
“CSAs are a way to address both consumers and farmers in that are traditionally in places considered food deserts,” says Chris Fowler, executive director and founder of Syracuse First, a non-profit organization that works with over 400 local businesses, many of which are food and farm based. “New York state, the USDA and other philanthropies have tried to help bridge the gap and to subsidize some of that by creating CSAs for people who don’t have access to grocery stores and full-service produce markets.”
Take a virtual tour of the Susan R. Klenk Learning Café and Kitchens, a new hands-on learning laboratory to prepare students with traditional and emerging professional competencies for careers in food, nutrition, dietetics, and public health. The facility includes an experimental food lab kitchen, commercial kitchen, baking nook and café. A video camera system allows faculty and chef instructors to broadcast classes, food demonstrations and seminars from Falk College to anywhere on campus and across the country.
A generous and visionary gift from Falk College alumna, Susan R. Klenk, made the learning café and kitchens possible. A dual major in the School of Education, Klenk pursued a teaching career with the Syracuse City School District. Because her career always revolved around supporting students to help them be successful, she created the Susan R. Klenk Learning Assistantship in September 2009 that allows them to take a leadership role, provide support for classmates and gain valuable management experience.
“Susan Klenk is a true advocate for student learning and a generous visionary whose on-going support makes Syracuse University an extraordinary place to study food. With the opening of the Klenk Learning Café and Kitchens thanks to Susan’s commitment and support, Falk College, which began offering courses in food and nutrition in 1917, is leading the way in preparing students for expanding career opportunities in food,” says Diane Lyden Murphy, dean, Falk College.
The learning café and teaching kitchens set the stage for industry-leading, forward-thinking approaches to food and culture, nutrition, research, and food studies development. Its design fosters creativity and collaboration across a variety of departments, schools and colleges, creating interdisciplinary partnerships that support teaching innovation, student learning, research and scholarship. In addition to unlimited faculty-supervised hands-on experiences, this dedicated space will provide an ideal environment for student-faculty research projects and educational community partnerships that set the SU programs apart.
“Restored wetlands provide valuable wildlife habitat, increase biodiversity, improve water quality, increase the quality of life for owners and neighbors and raise property values of the landowner and neighbors,” notes Rick Welsh, Falk Family Endowed Professor of Food Studies. Professor Welsh was a co-investigator on the grant from the University of Michigan’s Water Center, “Wetlands for Wildlife: Understanding Drivers of Public-Private Partnership Restoration Success.”
This project, launched in 2013, was one of six led by multidisciplinary teams that received funding from the Water Center to support and enhance restoration and protection efforts of the Great Lakes basin. The project measured the ecological, social and economic impacts of 50 restored public-private partnership (PPP) wetlands on private landholdings within the Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River watershed in New York State.
PPP wetlands are important for conserving and restoring wetlands in the Great Lakes watershed. However, minimal assessments have been conducted to understand how these programs impact wetland-associated biodiversity within agricultural landscapes. Even less is known about the impact of wetland restoration on property values, as well as landowner motivations for participation in these projects.
The Water Center is part of the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute and is supported by funds from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation and the University of Michigan. As part of the project, Welsh worked with co-investigators Tom Langen (Clarkson University) and David Chandler (Syracuse University), including collaboration with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.