Walking down the hall in the Miske Center for Science Inquiry, you might smell the Nutrition and Food Science courses before you see them. On any given day, you may come across students roasting potatoes and green beans, pickling lemons or squeezing them for fresh lemonade, or preparing a hot sauce for bottling. If you’re lucky, you may even get to taste their latest creation.
For Sunil Malapati, Professor of Chemistry, this hands-on work is all part of the experience.
“Food is this deeply personal experience, but it also has this communal element,” Sunil said. “For example, I have an experiment where the class bakes cookies and each group has to use a different kind of fat. They are naturally curious and start discussing and trying other group’s cookies. Now they are not just observing but they are interacting and learning to appreciate another person’s relationship to food. It adds another level of learning and engagement”
Sunil does not limit his lessons to the classroom, however. Food prepared in the Nutrition and Food Science Lab has been served at many campus events, such as the Arts@Clarke “Night in” events and “Musical Menus.” Garnishes, appetizers, and meals have also been shared with the greater Dubuque community.
One of the groups that Sunil and his students work with is Project Rooted, which supports schools in the Dubuque community in their efforts to provide nutritious meals to all area families, especially those facing food insecurity. The group also provides educational materials to help children make healthy choices and develop positive eating habits.
Each year, they host the “Rooted Table” as their flagship fundraising event, offering an al fresco fine dining experience in the Bee Branch region on the North side of Dubuque. This year, Sunil and his students baked loafs of bread to serve during the event. Health, Wellness, and Behavioral Sciences major Rory Bickler assisted with the process. She also serves as a student assistant in some of Sunil’s Introductory Nutrition and Food Science courses.
Seeing the class from both sides helps me understand the process in more detail, and it is good experience for my future career. More than that, community projects like these help me see concepts from class in action. I’ve read about food deserts, but to realize it exists in my community and that there are things I can do to make an impact gives a real purpose to what I’m learning.
The Food Science and Nutrition courses also include field trips to locations as diverse as Stiermans Orchard, Prairie Farms, Jubeck New World Brewing, and Potosi Brewing Company to learn about different production methods and safe food handling. Students frequently visit and volunteer for Convivium Urban Farmstead too, helping with everything from kitchen prep and meal delivery to tending the garden that provides tomatoes, greens, and other vegetables.
“Going into these businesses and facilities exposes students to different types of food production and scale. It’s never a matter of one way is good and one way is bad. It is about appreciating the differences of scale, as well as being able to dig deeper and understand how diverse a person or culture’s relationship with food can be,” Sunil said. “These experiences make students think about food in these 360 perspectives, including everything from the science of production and consumption to social justice issues surrounding food. It truly aligns with our core values and that increased global awareness.”
Interested in learning more about the Nutrition and Food Science minor and how you can get involved? Contact the Office for Institutional Advancement at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 225-2753.