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Emerita Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies Marion Nestle Publishes Memoir

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A new memoir by Professor Emerita of Nutrition and Food Studies Marion Nestle chronicles her late-in-life career as a food studies pioneer and food politics expert and advocate.

 

The cover of Marion Nestle's book, Slow Cooked, featuring a black-and-white photo of Nestle.

Slow Cooked: An Unexpected Life in Food Politics began as a pandemic project, as many of the libraries and research spaces Nestle relied on for her work were closed. 

“I needed a project, and I’m always being asked about the start of my career. How did I do it? What drew me to food studies? I decided it was time to answer those questions,” Nestle said. 

The memoir was a new frontier for Nestle, whose fifteen books, including the pivotal Food Politics (2003), have tended to be more academic than personal. Nevertheless, Nestle approached the challenge with her customary rigor. 

“I read memoirs; I consulted memoir writers,” she said. “I asked myself, ‘What is my reason for writing this, and how can I keep a really narrow focus on the kinds of things that informed my professional career?’ I knew I wanted to write about my experience as a woman who came to my career late in life, not in my thirties but in my sixties, and how I was able to run with the opportunities I encountered at NYU.”

Nestle helped to found NYU Steinhardt’s Food Studies program in 1996, at a time when the academic study of food was virtually unheard of. And yet, Nestle shared, she didn’t intend to start a movement. 

“The timing was right, and we were able to recognize that we were in a particular cultural moment where people really wanted this program,” Nestle said. “And I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who encouraged me. We made the study of food academically respectable.”

The interdisciplinary nature of Steinhardt played a huge role in the success of the Food Studies program. Food studies is biology, sociology, history... We are not traditional academics, and Steinhardt gave us the space to really explore this field and what it could be.

Marion Nestle, Professor Emerita of Nutrition and Food Studies

Nestle credits her success to a host of factors, including sound counsel from her advisory board, support from Ann Marcus, NYU Steinhardt’s dean at the time, and the work of Amy Bentley, a food historian and professor of food studies whose ample teaching experience allowed the program to hit the ground running. Almost immediately, The New York Times ran a news story on the launch of the program, a testament to the timeliness of Nestle’s vision.

The collaborative, interdisciplinary nature of NYU Steinhardt was particularly fertile ground for a successful food studies program, Nestle noted. 

“The interdisciplinary nature of Steinhardt played a huge role in the success of the Food Studies program. Food studies is biology, sociology, history… We are not traditional academics, and Steinhardt gave us the space to really explore this field and what it could be. I always felt supported. I always felt that we were able to experiment. Steinhardt was unique in that it could handle the idea of food studies.”

Now, nearly three decades later, food studies has come a long way. 

“I told our first PhD students that they should never expect to get an academic job. One of the most pleasant surprises has been how wrong I was about that,” Nestle said. “We have students who are teaching across the country, in tenure-track positions at top universities, in a range of departments. Food studies is relevant to so many different areas of scholarship.”

For students interested in food studies, Nestle recommends taking advantage of the now robust opportunities of the growing field. 

“Now there’s an opportunity to study food academically and rigorously, and that is so valuable,” Nestle said. “Right now we’re really in a moment of questioning – What are our foundational texts? How is our work made possible by food studies, and how does our work shape food studies in return? This work is more timely than ever.”

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Food Studies

The Food Studies program explores the cultural, historical, and sociological aspects of food and food systems.

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