Initial 'Theme Semester' kicks off Jan. 20; will feature numerous events, speakers, courses

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

It started with an idea: organize academics, campus activities, and community events around a central theme, spanning a semester at a time. And what topic could whet one’s appetite for the initial Theme Semester?

Why, food, of course.

The University of Iowa’s 2015 Theme Semester, named Food for Thought, will kick off Jan. 20, bringing diverse perspectives to bear on a topic of importance to Iowa and the world.

linda snetselaar portrait
Linda Snetselaar

“Our work in the Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement is focused on partnering with Iowans to improve community life and educate students for civic and social responsibility. The Theme Semester is one way that community partnerships can be fostered,” says Linda Snetselaar, associate provost for outreach and engagement. “We have fantastic partners across campus and in the community who have curated a diverse and inclusive program. Food for Thought includes museum exhibitsclassroom activities across various disciplines, lectures, and events that are free and open to the public.”

Some marquee events associated with Food for Thought:

kristin porter portrait
Kristin Porter

Jan. 20: WorldCanvass, featuring host Joan Kjaer and chefs, restaurateurs, foodies (including Iowa Girl Eats blogger Kristin Porter), and experts in public health and cultural studies, explores the ways in which food affects us as individuals and unites us as members of communities. Preshow reception catered by Oasis and Devotay begins at 4 p.m.; the live program, free and open to the public, begins at 5 p.m. at FilmScene in downtown Iowa City.

“We’re very excited that the first WorldCanvass of 2015 is on the topic of food,” Kjaer says. “What could be more basic to our daily lives, to our cultural experiences, and to our state’s economic vigor? The guests will address food, imagination, and the power of memory; how we eat; and food and cultural resonance.”

mark bittman holding food
Mark Bittman

Feb. 2: Mark Bittman will give a free lecture, “The Future of Food,” at 7:30 p.m. in the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City. An award-winning journalist and cookbook author, Bittman has written for The New York Times for 30 years, where he was “The Minimalist” in the Dining pages from 1997 to 2010. He is a Times columnist for the Op-Ed pages (the first to editorialize about food in a major American newspaper), the Magazine, and the Food section. His books include the now-standard How to Cook Everything as well as the groundbreaking Food Matters and Vegan Before 6:00 (VB6), which debuted at No. 1 on the Times Best Seller list. His most recently published book, How to Cook Everything Fast, is also a Times Best Seller.

The event is free and open to the public; attendees are encouraged to bring a canned food donation to benefit HACAP and local food pantries.

Looking toward 2016...

As the inaugural Theme Semester nears its kickoff, the Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement is also looking toward Theme Semester 2016. The office will focus its efforts around social justice.

"Social justice calls on all of us to ensure that everyone is provided equal rights and opportunities," says Georgina Dodge, UI chief diversity officer. "We must understand the concept of linked fate and realize that the advancement of each individual benefits the whole."

Those interested in staying current about next spring can fill out this survey.

That same day, Bittman will hold an open discussion with all interested students from 2 to 3 p.m. in Room S030 of the UI College of Public Health Building.

April 17-18Working Group Theatre will present All Recipes Are Home, a play with music and dance, performed in a historic barn, commissioned by Hancher/the University of Iowa, Center Stage Series/Luther College, and Grinnell College. All Recipes Are Home will incorporate interviews with Iowa farmers and other experts to tell a universal story grounded in Iowa.

“All of us at Hancher are thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to the Theme Semester by supporting the creation and presentation of a new work of theater,” says Chuck Swanson, Hancher executive director. “Our friends from Working Group Theatre are experts at collecting stories from the people who know the most about a given topic—in this case, food production—and then weaving those stories into amazing plays. We’re excited to present All Recipes Are Home; it will be a vibrant part of the Food for Thought semester.”

All Recipes Are Home is the fifth full-length play Hancher has commissioned by Working Group Theatre, which is based in Iowa City. Tickets can be obtained from the Hancher website. (The play will be performed in Decorah on April 11 and in Grinnell on April 13.)

April 18: The University of Iowa Food for Thought Theme Semester Symposium, an event grounded in the university’s academic excellence that will explore various disciplines. Panel discussions will address food production, the global food economy, and personal identity through food.

“The symposium brings together the entire spectrum of food scholarship, from production to consumption, providing an opportunity for those of us at UI to think about how we can play to our own strengths to enhance our current food studies activities,” says Brandi Janssen, clinical assistant professor of occupational and environmental health in the College of Public Health. “Our diverse speakers bring expertise in agricultural production, local food systems, global political economies of food, history, and philosophy. It will be an engaging day and I hope it will spark new conversations across the university and in Iowa City.”

All Food for Thought events can be found on the UI Event Calendar. The Food for Thought website houses news and information about events and courses related to the Theme Semester. Twitter users are encouraged to join the online conversation using #UIfood4thought in their posts.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, contact Erika Christiansen in advance at 319-335-2003.