FoodGrads Podcast Ep 22: Getting the dish on the NEW George Brown Honours Bachelor of Food Studies program with Professors Lori Stahlbrand and Caitlin Scott

Welcome to episode 22 of the FoodGrads Podcast. The podcast where we explore careers in the food, beverage and hospitality industries. I’m your host Veronica Hislop, a molecular science graduate student and career partner with FoodGrads.

On this week’s podcast, I interviewed Professors Lori Stahlbrand and Caitlin Scott of George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario. They are here to introduce the college’s NEW Honours Bachelor of Food Studies degree which combines culinary arts and a comprehensive food studies curriculum. It is the first of its kind in Canada and is meant to bring a new focus on justice and equity, sustainability and health, and a new awareness of how these societal issues can be analyzed and resolved.

Lori and Caitlin spent this episode giving me the rundown on the program including what coursework students can expect during their 4 year degree. This includes talking about the careers path the program sets you up for which aren’t just limited to being a chef. A lot of care has been put into developing this program and you can tell that Lori and Caitilin have a passion for food and believe that food is the vessel for change.

Before we dive into the episode I will mention that at the time of releasing this episode there is still time to apply to the program for a September 2021 start. So if you are interested check out the links to this episode to find out more information.

So let’s get into it.

Show Notes

[2:56] Can you tell me more about the exciting announcement from George Brown and their new Food Studies Honours Program?

The program is an Honours Bachelors of Food Studies program and is the first of it’s kind in Canada. The same that you would find in any other university or college focused on 4 pillars – sustainability, equity, health, policy and combined with culinary skills.

College degrees are unique in that they provide practical skills. This new program is going to cover a wide variety of food studies issues and chef skills you expect from George Brown. They are first and foremost looking for students who like to cook. George Brown wanted to create a program that could lead to a lot of different job prospects.

[6:31] With students who will be going through this program. What are you hoping that students can’t get anywhere else?

The program is in Toronto and in Toronto about a quarter of jobs are related to food in some way including food processors and restaurants. A lot students whether working in the food industry or not get jobs in the food industry to support themselves. There is a very diverse population in Toronto and incredible food processing.

[8:11] Does the curriculum reflect that this is program happens in Toronto?

Yes, there is such a wide variety of food places are here to explore. Some of the largest food non-profits are in Toronto and the program will get to engage in this (urban side). Toronto is close to prime agriculture land which students will have field trips to explore this. They will also have a work integrated learning where students will perform this between the 2nd and 3rd years. George Brown wants you to make connections with the food system.

[9:54] Can you tell me more about the coursework and what the students will be expecting to do during the program?

Starting with the pillars and how they will be integrated in the curriculum as the most important emerging food issues. First with sustainability – understanding food waste, climate change, food production methods. Equity will explore issues inside and outside of the kitchen. Health the role of food and health. Policy will explore what we can do as a society to create conditions in a food system that is sustainable in all ways. All the issues are interconnected despite them being pillars.

In the first year, they will get a lot of introductory courses to help wrap their heads around what food studies means. They also get introductory cooking courses teaching how to cook and a gastronomy course that will give them theoretical background on what they are doing. There will be a food communication to learn how to talk about food which also looks at broader communication skills needed for the program. They will also look at food and beverage cost control and food literacy and unpacks what it means.

In students second year they start to get a broader look at food production. The different food production methods and controversies. Next, looking at food from the sea and learning how important this is for most of the population. One course will look at Indigenous cooking an will be taught by an Indigenous scholar. They will be working at food movements like equity and hunger. Of course, they will be looking at research methods and how to perform academic research including bias. Second year will also teach you how to cook. Between second and third year students will get paid experience which will allow them to explore new job prospects.

[15:46] Veronica, Lori and Caitlin talk about the programs holistic approach to food studies and food communication

[18:46] Continuing on with the third and forth year of the program

In third year a student will look more at nutritional epidemiology and food policy. They learn how different topics and how they apply at policy. How does law play a role in policy like food fraud and how societal norms develop policies. The evolving chef, global food and beverage history. How important the non-profit sector to the Canadian economy. Food service industry in how it is changing and sustainable consumption.

In forth year year there is a course in global food politics like food trade. There will be a course on food issues in the city and the role of non-profits in the city. There will be a course on what an agent of change and chefs who have played a role like this. There is a full year cap stone project where students get to choose their own project where they can do something academic or business. There is a lot of options. There will also be a selective topics courses and look at what is relevant at the time. As well, the future of food and what we are doing in combination. Finally, there will be a “black box” of ingredients to create a meal out of things. Not to mention liberal studies courses.

[24:11] When student graduate from this program what types of jobs will they be able to apply for or go into?

Some people will work in the kitchen but there will also be opportunities to work in evolving kitchens as restaurants have adapted to COVID. Others may be interested in food production, product development, policy, sourcing or logistics. This program will also allow you to apply to policy. There are many things that food can address in issues that face us in our lives.

[27:24] For any student that is looking to go into this program. How does the admission program work and how does the program allow for transferring courses?

In terms of advanced standing there will a bridge program where students who have done a 2-year culinary program or from other colleges. That occurs between 2nd and 3rd year which will happen in 2023. They will also students from other culinary programs by showing a culinary professionacy. All information can be found on the George Brown website.

[30:11] The conversation is happening during a pandemic which is known to affect the restaurant industry. What has the pandemic taught us about the food system and why would you want to go into this type of program when things look bleak?

The pandemic has shown that our food system has a lot of problems even in a wealthy country like Canada. Many people have lost jobs and generally the racialized groups have lost their jobs and been affected by the pandemic. They pandemic has created change and vulnerabilities in our food system. This has led to new chances of people to think about food. Lori believes that chefs will be agents of change. Climate change can be addressed through the food industry. The pandemic has shown there is a lot of work to be done but we can do it.

[34:56] Who do you think this program is going to be best suited for?

They are looking for student who are curious and creative. As well, as citizen engagement. Particularly curiosity because the food system is complex and you can’t assume that you know all the answers. A love of food and cooking.

They are looking for students who want careers with solution to the big problems of the world.

[36:29] Why have you gotten into the food industry. Where does this passion come from?

Caitlin doesn’t have a single time that made her love food but she has always loved food. She was always interested in global challenges like corporate power because once she did her master’s she learned about who wins and who loses and who has power in the food system which led to PhD research and how they shape the world. Caitlin also has an into in nutrition because she does power lifting.

Lori comes from a family of health food nuts in the 60s. They had a garden, made their own bread and was experimenting with diets. What brought everything together was in the 80s Lori became interested in looking at the polarization of jobs in the environment. She became really interested into combining jobs with helping the environment. This job now is more of a legacy project to create more educated citizens of food systems.

[41:56] How can we find out more about this program?

Learn more about the program via George Brown Food Studies

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