Food System in Focus in New Honors College Lecture

 Margaret Soba McCabe, Jennie Popp and Curt Rom will lead a conversation about why and how food matters.
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Margaret Soba McCabe, Jennie Popp and Curt Rom will lead a conversation about why and how food matters.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Soy milk, oat milk, almond milk. Beyond Meat® and the Impossible Burger™. Is all milk really milk? Is all meat really meat? 

A University of Arkansas dean and two associate deans — Margaret Sova McCabe, dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law; Jennie Popp, associate dean of the Honors College; and Curt Rom, associate dean for international education — will consider the legal, economic and environmental aspects of products in our food system in a public lecture, “Food Matters,” which will be offered online via Zoom at 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

If you are interested, please fill out this online form to gain access to the lecture.

The lecture will preview the Spring 2021 Honors College Signature Seminar, Food Matters.

“In the United States, we have an abundance of food, but in that abundance, we have a very complicated food system. Maybe one of the most complicated in the world,” Rom said. “Every bite is a decision process.”

“From a legal perspective, there’s so much that goes on on the way to the grocery store that it’s important for people to understand and think about some of the top issues,” McCabe said. “Eat meat, don’t eat meat. Buy GMO, don’t buy GMO. But those are really complex issues that really don’t boil down neatly into a simple ‘buy, don’t buy’ binary decision.”

In designing the course, the three professors began by looking at definitions of food.

“What is meat? What is milk? What are those factors that legally, economically and nutritionally make something what it is? That’s the foundation of all our discussions going forward in this class,” said Popp, who is also the co-chair of the university’s Service Learning Initiative. “The expectation is that food is there and always will be there for us, but that is not the reality.”

The course will also examine how various food industries have changed over time due to changes in consumer perception, like dairy milk usage and other products that promote a healthy lifestyle.

Since the 1970s, U.S. dairy milk drinkers have declined sharply, while consumption of beverage products made from soy, oat and almond have grown in popularity as a replacement. These questions regarding nutrition equivalency and environmental impacts across products, along with food fads, will be examined in the course.

For example, POM Wonderful™ sales reached $91 billion in one year based on manufacturer-backed research claims that the product improved heart health and treated prostate cancer. The Supreme Court case ordered the company to remove these claims due to lack of scientific methods followed in the research. So, how wonderful is it?

“I’ve always found that food is something everyone can relate to, and so it’s a really powerful teaching tool,” McCabe said. “This course is a great way to understand that, yes, food is political, but so is everything else. It gives students a framework to really think about the decisions that they make as citizens and where the information that they’re analyzing is coming from.”

Margaret Sova McCabe is dean of the School of Law. She has also served on the board of the Academy of Food Law & Policy and as a vice chair of the Food and Drug Administration Committee of the American Bar Association’s Administrative Law Section. Her areas of legal expertise are administrative law and food law and policy.

Jennie Popp is associate dean of the Honors College and co-chair of the university’s Service Learning Initiative. She is also a professor of agricultural economics and agribusiness who has research responsibility for identifying sustainable best practices for agricultural production. She is currently co-leading a multi-year effort to increase both the quantity and quality of fruit and vegetable production in Northwest Arkansas.

Curt Rom is associate dean for international education within the Graduate School and International Education. He is a University Professor of horticulture with research and teaching in fruit crops, sustainable and organic production and food systems.

Both Popp and Rom have served as co-directors for the Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability. Both are members of the UA Teaching Academy and have received the John W. White Teaching, Honors College Distinguished Faculty, and the Gold Medal faculty awards. Rom has also been recognized by the American Society for Horticultural Sciences as the Outstanding Educator at both the regional and national levels.

Signature Seminars Explore Diverse Topics

Food Matters is one of three Honors College Signature Seminars scheduled for spring 2021. Other topics will include:

  • Conservatism, taught by Jay P. Greene, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Education Reform in the College of Education and Health Professions.
  • Global Social Change, taught by Rogelio Garcia Contreras, clinical faculty member in social innovation and social entrepreneurship at the Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation in the Sam M. Walton College of Business; Laurence Hare, associate professor of history and director of the International and Global Studies Program in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences; and Jared Phillips, teaching assistant professor of International Studies in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. 

Deans of each college may nominate professors to participate in this program, and those who are selected to teach will become Dean’s Fellows in the Honors College.

The Honors College brings in leading scholars from other institutions to teach some of these courses, including Timothy Landry, professor of anthropology and religious studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., who will lead a fourth Signature Seminar, Witchcraft, during the January 2021 intersession.

Honors students must apply to participate, and those selected will be designated Dean’s Signature Scholars. The course application is posted online on the Signature Seminars web page. The deadline to apply is Friday, Oct. 30.

About the Honors College: The University of Arkansas Honors College was established in 2002 and brings together high-achieving undergraduate students and the university’s top professors to share transformative learning experiences. Each year the Honors College awards up to 90 freshman fellowships that provide $72,000 over four years, and more than $1 million in undergraduate research and study abroad grants. The Honors College is nationally recognized for the high caliber of students it admits and graduates. Honors students enjoy small, in-depth classes, and programs are offered in all disciplines, tailored to students’ academic interests, with interdisciplinary collaborations encouraged. Fifty percent of Honors College graduates have studied abroad and 100 percent of them have engaged in mentored research.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 3% of colleges and universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Hiba Tahir, editor
Honors College

Kendall Curlee, director of communications
Honors College


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