University of California President Janet Napolitano said Tuesday that she plans to leverage the state's role in agriculture and research to tackle one of the world's most pressing problems: food.
The former Homeland Security secretary announced a new UC Global Food Initiative that she said will deepen the university's commitment to eradicating hunger, safeguarding the world's food supply and reducing obesity rates at home and abroad.
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The idea for the project came out of a dinner Napolitano and the system's 10 campus chancellors had at Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, which is regarded as the birthplace of California cuisine and its emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. But its goal is "audacious" and "far-reaching," she said.
"It is our intent to do everything in our power to put the world on a pathway to feed itself in ways that are nutritious and sustainable," Napolitano said.
The venture, to be overseen by a faculty-led council, will encompass actions as varied as bringing scientists together to look at how crops can be protected amid climate change and establishing campus-based food pantries to increasing opportunities for local farmers to furnish the food sold on UC campuses, she said.
The university also plans to infuse food-related topics in subjects such as law, education and health and to create a student fellowship program to promote research on food issues, Napolitano said. Apart from the $75,000 she has earmarked for the fellowships, the initiative will be covered by existing funds, new federal grants or private partnerships, she said without specifying its exact costs.
"Keep in mind, the issue of 'food' is not just about what we eat. It's about delivery systems. Climate issues. Population growth. Policy. All of these and more come into play when you begin to think about the colliding forces that shape the world's food future," she said.
Napolitano unveiled the system-wide project at a Berkeley middle school where Chez Panisse owner and fresh food activist Alice Waters founded a demonstration garden two decades ago that has become a model for other "edible schoolyards," including one first lady Michelle Obama planted at the White House.
Waters said she hopes the university's involvement will bring the conversation to a new level. "I am putting all my eggs in her basket," she said as she presented Napolitano with a container of eggs that she said were hatched by her own chickens Tuesday morning.