May 18, 2017

Student launches multidisciplinary food blog

Hannah Cai ’19 is on a mission to encourage you to get to know your food.

Seeking to unite her interest in nutrition with a passion for creating content for the digital world, the nutritional sciences major launched Food For Thought, a blog and social media presence on cooking, sustainability and human well-being. Through Cai’s stories and photographs, she highlights a diverse lineup of people and projects that shed light on various food-related issues, such as food excess and waste, food insecurity, sustainable agriculture and farm animal health.

“Food impacts so many different areas of life,” said Cai, who transferred to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in fall 2016. “Until I began to read books about nutrition and food choices in high school, I didn’t think twice about what I ate or where it came from.”

Studying nutritional sciences at Cornell, Cai has been thrilled to discover beneficial connections among many departments across campus, from a philosophy course on the ethics of eating to an anthropology course on the history of the food we eat today.

“Our individual food choices are influenced by a complex blend of sociological and psychological factors,” Cai said. “Income, family backgrounds, the size of your plate – all these and more impact what and how much we eat.”

Cai found inspiration to launch Food for Thought from Christopher Byrne, a lecturer in the Department of Communication, and a class focused on creating a personal brand.

When Byrne encouraged her to create the very opportunity she was seeking – to combine her passion for communication and nutritional science in a meaningful way – Cai began to talk to professors about the global food system. This led her to hone in on a more specific goal: encourage people to be more conscious about the origins of their food. A grant from the CALS Alumni Association in December 2016 to set up a webpage helped her do just that.

Recently, Cai has set her sights on issues ranging from undernutrition in developing countries to minimizing food waste here on campus.

A post on Prabhu Pingali, professor of applied economics and management and director of the Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative (TCI), illuminates TCI’s efforts to address malnutrition in India. Pingali and his team at TCI are tackling this challenge holistically, looking at agriculture and beyond, to the roles that gender, education, sanitation and infrastructure play in India’s food system.

In an interview with Emily Lederman ’18 of Cornell’s chapter of the Food Recovery Network (FRN), Cai explores how the FRN is working to reduce the amount of food waste on campus. As part of that effort, they rescue unserved, leftover food for their partner agency, the Friendship Donation Network, to feed community members in need.

“With so many factors affecting access to food, how food is made and our everyday food choices, it can be easy to get overwhelmed,” said Cai. “With Food for Thought, I hope to enlighten myself and others about a food system that is more complex than we realize.”

Jennifer Savran Kelly is a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.