By Briahnna Brown
George Washington University students will have the chance to explore the myriad ways food impacts our world in a class led by renowned chef, humanitarian and activist José Andrés this fall.
Mr. Andrés, who owns more than 30 restaurants around the world, including Beefsteak on the Foggy Bottom campus, first brought a sustainability course to GW in 2013, and the “World on a Plate” course—which has also been titled “The Sustainable Plate” in the past—has evolved to incorporate current issues in the global food landscape. For example, in addition to examining food history, science and industry, this year’s course will also cover immigration and the undocumented food system as well as national security and food-related health issues.
“We at GW are so fortunate to have had a long and richly rewarding association with José Andrés over the years,” GW President Thomas LeBlanc said. “José is not only an internationally-acclaimed chef, but he’s also a tireless advocate for human rights and ending hunger across the globe. He inspired our students in 2014 as our Commencement speaker, and our students still have an incredible [email protected] opportunity to learn from him about food and the many ways it shapes our world.”
Mr. Andrés is known globally for his work as a humanitarian and an advocate on immigration issues. He has received the National Humanities Medal for his work on clean cooking technology and education. He has led relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and in the Carolinas after Hurricane Florence. During the longest U.S. government shutdown in history last year, he made free meals available to government employees impacted by the layoffs.
His involvement with GW goes back almost to the start of the decade, when he first served as a special adviser on food issues to former GW President Steven Knapp. About the same time in 2011, Mr. Andrés along with GW and teachers at the D.C. Public Schools' School Without Walls created the Integrated Food Project, a curriculum that uses food-related examples to teach students about food and health.
He has served as chair of the GW Urban Food Task Force and participated as a panelist and keynote speaker at events such as the Food Summit on Innovations in Food Production and Security in 2013 and The Future of Restaurants discussion in 2018.
In 2014, Mr. Andrés received an honorary doctorate of public service from GW and was the Commencement speaker, where he urged graduates to create a “new American Dream.” And when GW opened Science and Engineering Hall, Mr. Andrés chose it as the site of his first fast-casual eatery, Beefsteak, and has used proceeds from the restaurant to support a variety of projects at the university such as hackathons and Earth Day celebrations.
Tara Scully, assistant professor of biology and director of the sustainability minor at GW, explained that the course will be project-driven rather than exam-driven. Students will have to evaluate their food choices during a week or research their individual heritage-related food culture, for example. There is also a service component to the course, where students will complete 20 hours of community service at a local food bank, food recovery program or farmers market.
"[Service] is something that every student should do, especially surrounding food because it's something everybody can relate to," Dr. Scully said.
The three-credit course will feature site visits to places like DC Central Kitchen and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Classes will also be taught by university professors and guest speakers who are subject-matter experts on the different issues the course covers.
"At GW, we have a lot of great professors that talk about food in their subject matter,” Dr. Scully said. “From public health, a field that directly engages nutrition and other food-related issues, to international affairs, where equity in food production and consumption play a critical role in a nation’s and region’s stability, this topic touches every single school and discipline at our university.”
The class will meet with lectures on Tuesdays and discussions Wednesdays during the fall semester. Students are encouraged to register for the course (SUST 3003) as soon as possible as space is limited. It is also recommended that students complete the course Introduction to Sustainability prior to taking this course.