Chatham News

Chatham Food Studies Director & Students Speak at International Food Conference

PITTSBURGH:  Alice Julier of Chatham University delivered the inaugural keynote speech at the bi-annual Perugia Food & Sustainability Studies Conference, an international scholarly meeting held in Perugia, Italy whose theme was “Perspectives on Food and Landscapes.” Julier is Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in Food Studies at Chatham University, as well as the Associate Dean of the Falk School of Sustainability. She is interested in social movements, domestic life, labor, consumption, and inequality in food systems; her pedagogical approach maintains a focus on training students to be actors and activists dedicated to making food systems more sustainable.

Two students in Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies program also presented at the food conference. Elise Miranda presented her thesis work “Integrating Distillery Grain Waste into Consumable Goods as a Means of Food Waste Reduction.” Kate Laubacher, also an alumna of Umbra’s Food & Sustainability Studies Program, shared her thesis “Conviviality and Community: Third Places in the U.S. and Europe.” Laubacher will remain in Perugia for two weeks to continue her research as she observes third places throughout Perugia. Laubacher is taking advantage of resources available at the Umbra Institute’s library, access to which was made possible by an agreement between Chatham and the Umbra Institute.

Julier began her keynote by saying, “We want to debate and discuss social movements and the genesis of food studies has made that happen”. She then went on to share how she regularly seeks to make her career about being both an activist and an academic, addressing theoretical and practical factors of food studies pedagogy and practices. “We can be critical thinkers and actors in something that could provide both pleasure and oppression,” continued Julier as she spoke of the rise of food social movements.

Key points of Julier’s keynote addressed labor, community, and discourse, as key elements of changing food systems. According to Julier, labor should be fair and not abuse low wages or poor working conditions, as is often the case when immigrants begin working in food jobs. Community intercultural exchange should be open, in order to encourage shared global knowledge rather than isolationism; and discourse should educate communities, inviting them to be informed about what they are eating so that they may establish healthy food sources and dietary habits.

The conference ran from June 9-12 and was organized and hosted by the Umbra Institute. The theme of the food conference sought to highlight how cultural and social processes affect the creation of landscapes and their perception, delving into the relationship between landscapes and food. The overarching theme, significantly inspired by Julier’s keynote, was one of activism toward a more sustainable food system that will one day have fewer negative effects on the surrounding environment and community. Many of the papers delivered took an anthropological or environmental studies approach to the idea that landscapes are often molded through food production and consumption, and the rules that are designed to protect and enhance landscapes that find themselves linked to particular foods and cultural heritages.

About the Umbra Institute Food & Sustainability Studies Program:
The Food & Sustainability Studies Program is an interdisciplinary curricular concentration at the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad program located in the central Italian city of Perugia. Often called a “big university town in a small Italian city,” Perugia is the ideal setting to study abroad in Italy, with fine arts, business, and liberal arts courses. For more information about the Umbra Institute or its Food & Sustainability Studies Program, contact the associate director of the Program, Zachary Nowak ( You can also watch a short video describing studying at the Umbra Institute.