Monday, October 21, 2013

UAF students host Food Day to draw attention to food security

University of Alaska Fairbanks anthropology and philosophy student Azara Mohammadi has no qualms about admitting she is a city girl. Growing up in Fairbanks and California, she was not exposed to agriculture and laughs at herself for having to ask what it means to hull corn. “At least I’m a blank slate,” Mohammadi said good naturedly.

Today, she is the force behind a UAF student movement to get more locally grown food into campus dining menus. What got her started on this path was a class she took three years ago, “Food and Culture,” taught by David Fazzino.
Danielle Flaherty and Thomas Osterman, members of the UAF Chancellor's Student Food Committee, make chips from locally grown kale. (Photo courtesy Azara Mohammadi)

“I had worked in food service since I was 15 and I saw huge issues but I thought I was the only one,” Mohammadi said. As she got more interested in food systems, she joined the nationwide Real Food Challenge. “I liked their ideas and model but what they prescribed didn’t work for Alaska,” she said. “It didn’t address food security in Alaska and it didn’t incorporate concepts of fit and place.”
Azara Mohammadi

While she eventually opted out of the RFC, she learned so much that she decided to tailor-make a program that just might work for UAF. She presented Chancellor Brian Rogers with a petition signed by 650 students. It asks that by 2020 UAF purchase 20 percent locally grown food for student meals.
Rogers liked what Mohammadi and her cohorts were trying to do and he requested they form the Chancellor’s Student Food Committee. “We hope to leverage the purchasing power of UAF to promote local agriculture,” Mohammadi said. “There is a misconception that we don’t have enough food to feed the world and in Alaska there is the perception that we can’t produce food.”

The new committee has been meeting with management of NANA, UAF’s food contractor, to start working on the plan. “It has to meet the budget but they seem very willing to work with us,” Mohammadi said.

Danielle Flaherty, a UAF culinary student, president of the UAF Culinary Club and new manager at Wolf Run Restaurant, has been very involved in the process. “Do what you can when you can,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Knowing where your food comes from is empowering.

“There are so many people in our state doing good work on these issues. Ultimately we’d like to see a cohesive voice for the movement on a statewide level. There is no right or wrong way to approach these issues, the point is that they are important and need to be discussed.”

Mohammadi and Flaherty have different approaches but are working toward the same goal. “Danielle believes in conscious consumerism and lives it,” Mohammadi said. “I on the other hand, believe we need to leverage the purchasing power of institutions to affect real change.”

Both agree on this statement from Mohammadi, “If UAF wants to truly be a leader in sustainability we need to make food a part of that conversation.”

To that end they have put together a lineup of lectures, films, demonstrations and exhibits for Food Day on Oct. 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the UAF Wood Center. Lecture topics include food preservation practices of foragers and farmers in Alaska, set-net salmon, paleo eating, drinking water challenges in rural Alaska. Films are “Fresh,” “King Corn,” “Food Inc.,” “Hungry for Change” and “Scientists Under Attack." They will be shown Oct. 24-25 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Duckering 347 and Reichardt 165.

Mohammadi is thrilled that students from Effie Kokrine Early College Charter School will be attending Food Day. The high schoolers are bringing digital cameras to take pictures for an art project about Food Day. “Educating our youth is very important,” Mohammadi said. “So many times they are the victims of diet-related diseases.”

From 1 to 2 p.m., Flaherty will make halibut chowder with a pureed cauliflower base. She will also have salad and barley pizza crust to sample. Over the summer, she worked with the UAF Cooperative Extension Service to develop school lunch recipes using local ingredients and those are foods she will have available.

Everyone is invited to this free event. Day passes are available at kiosks in parking lots off of Farmers Loop and across from the Patty Center.

Mohammadi said, “I hope we connect with more people who want to help.”

Listen to Mohammadi’s perspective on KSUA-FM Saturdays from 6 to 7 p.m. for her social sciences talk radio program “Honey I’m a Hominid.” She can be reached at

This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at

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