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Nutrition and Food Studies Research Benefits New York Communities


This is the first in a series of articles highlighting how Nutrition and Food Studies faculty are combining research insights and applied expertise to bring positive change to New York City.

NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies combines two distinct but related areas of study, allowing faculty and students alike to explore the relationships among human consumption, food systems, culture, and health against the vibrant backdrop of New York City.

Better Support for New York City Street Vendors

Krishnendu Ray, professor of food studies and director of the PhD in Food Studies program, has worked closely for more than a decade with the Street Vendor Project (SVP), an advocacy group that champions the rights of street vendors to earn a living and contribute to the culture and life of New York City.

Most of New York City’s 20,000 street vendors are immigrants. The SVP provides legal representation, small business training, organizing support, and more for their nearly 3,000 members, and Ray’s role on the advisory board is to offer intellectual support to SVP leadership as they work to improve conditions and opportunities for street vendors throughout the city.

“We know from historical data that immigrants have long been an important part of city provisioning, comprising almost 50 percent of the 21st century labor force in agriculture, food production, restaurant work, and more,” says Ray, whose broader work is on immigrants and food practices. “We also know that street vending is one important element that makes a city more livable and livelier, alongside things like foot traffic, green spaces, and mixed-use buildings.”

We know from historical data that immigrants have long been an important part of city provisioning, comprising almost 50 percent of the 21st century labor force in agriculture, food production, restaurant work, and more.

Krishnendu Ray, Professor of Food Studies and Director of the PhD in Food Studies Program

With his expertise, Ray gave evidence to the New York City Council multiple times to help the SVP move through legislation that would expand the availability of food vendor permits, create an office of street vendor enforcement, and establish a street vendor advisory board. The bill was successfully passed in 2021.

Ray has also received an NYU Provost Global Seed Grant for Collaborative Research for work on City Food Research, which is a local iteration of a large, international project on street food vending and markets in the Global North and South. Findings were published in a special issue of the journal Food, Culture & Society on street vending globally, which was called “Mobilizing the streets: the role of food vendors in urban life.”

Ray’s latest book, Practicing Food Studies, which was co-edited by Amy Bentley and Fabio Parasecoli, both professors of food studies, includes more information on his work with the SVP; the book will be available in March 2024. 

Museum Exhibitions in New York City on the Roles of Food 

Parasecoli has collaborated extensively with multiple museums in New York City on exhibitions that explore the role of food in larger contexts. One was Food in New York: Bigger Than the Plateon display at the Museum of the City of New York from September 2022 through September 2023, which examined the City’s challenging and complex food systems.

A work of art depicting a candy apple with a reflection of NYC imagery including the Brooklyn Bridge

Photo credit: Fabio Parasecoli

“I was a consultant on the original Bigger Than the Plate exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2019,” says Parasecoli. “That led to an invitation to co-curate this exhibition with the Museum’s internal curator, which involved some interesting discussions on how to reframe the original idea’s structure, narrative, and space to create interesting content and a clear message.”

Photo of a food studies art exhibit with a sphere structure up front, with two signs above reading "EATING" and "TRADING"

Photo credit: Fabio Parasecoli

Food in New York used several pieces from the London exhibition alongside new commissions from local designers and artists, as well as pieces from the Museum of the City of New York’s existing catalog.

“Because the Museum has a long and strong relationship with educators in the Tri-State area, the exhibition was also used to anchor a series of events for schools and teachers,” says Parasecoli. “I was invited to participate in daylong meetings with K–12 teachers to help them understand the issues behind the exhibition and how to use them in their curriculum.” In addition, the Museum leveraged its mission to foster understanding of the distinctive nature of urban life in New York City by hosting a series of open events for the community.

Photo of two mannequins wearing food-inspired dresses

Photo credit: Fabio Parasecoli

In addition, the curators of Food & Fashion at the Museum at FIT (MFIT) also reached out to Parasecoli in 2019 to help create the companion book for the exhibition. When the exhibition was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parasecoli began contributing more extensively, participating in a global symposium on food and fashion that met in New York City. The exhibition was on display September 13 through November 26, 2023.

“From my perspective within food studies, I tried to point to the similarities between the fashion system and various food systems, which share common elements such as globalization, trade, environmental impact, ethics, and more,” says Parasecoli. “Through this view, I wanted to give a higher perspective and use the exhibition to demonstrate how both food and fashion can make statements about our culture and society.”

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