Countries across the globe suffer from environmental, societal, and lifestyle factors that impact different concerns as they relate to food security, food sovereignty, and nutrition. These factors, such as the lack of proper seeds/germplasm, production and post-harvest technologies (i.e. refrigeration), unexpected and unpredictable weather conditions caused by climate change, high food prices, lack of healthcare, or the low cost and easy access to unhealthy foods, stem from a lack of knowledge of nutrition, food systems, access to affordable nutritious foods, as well as the impact of biofuels and the ecology of ecosystems. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is dedicated to creating solutions, educating, and researching these concerns.
The Rutgers Food Innovation Center is an award-winning program that is part of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) at the university. Their missions are to encourage and develop sustainable growth and success of the food and agricultural businesses in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States by providing research, resources, solutions, and a solid foundation for information and guidance. The Center specifically works with farmers and cooperatives, small and mid-sized, existing and pre-existing food companies, and retail and foodservice establishments.
The Department of Nutritional Sciences in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) focuses on undergraduate and graduate education as well as research on nutrition and public service. Using a combination of biology and social science in teaching and investigation provides the Department with the tools to look at nutrition problems and come up with innovative solutions that better the quality of life for people throughout the state, the nation, and the world. Students can study for a major, minor, or graduate degree in nutritional sciences. The Department of Nutritional Sciences is also dedicated to outreach with programs such as Ask Before You Eat, which helps prevent food allergy reactions in restaurants, and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), which helps limited resource families improve their eating behaviors.
The New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health (IFNH) has formed a partnership with Rutgers University due to their shared commitment and the university’s strong ability to address many of society’s needs. The Institute focuses largely on the obesity epidemic and related disorders such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiometabolic disease. In order to understand these issues, the Institute recognizes that many adult diseases stem from childhood, through either nutrition or social environments. The IFNH plays a special part in supplying superior training and providing educational programs in these topics for the community to help in the assistance of scientists and healthcare professionals.
The Rutgers Department of Food Science at SEBS is a department that emphasizes essential principals of food chemistry, food biology, and food processing to prepare students to be leaders in the advancement of nutritious, healthy, and safe food products. Undergraduates can receive a Bachelor of Science degree in General Food Science, Food Science & Management Economics, or Food Science Research. The graduate program leads to a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degree with a solid background in food science while allowing for specialization in the areas of food biology, chemistry, or engineering.
The International Science and Education Program (ISE) at SEBS has the goal of strengthening the global competence of students, faculty, and staff in agriculture and related areas. Undergraduate students have the opportunity to intern in countries such as Brazil, Kenya, Nigeria, and Taiwan in order to understand the relation between different cultures and the food, food choices and bioenergy systems in those countries. ISE facilitates the classification and introduction of new food crops and use of alternative bioenergy sources to decrease pressure on food and feed crops and make them more affordable.
Individual faculty are equally involved in food, ecology, and nutrition. Professor James E. Simon of the Rutgers Department of Plant Biology and Pathology works with research groups in New Jersey and around the world to develop and introduce new foods and spices, create standardized botanical products for health and nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture and value-added agriculture. This includes fresh and processed vegetables, culinary herbs, spices, ethnic produce, African, Asian and Latino botanicals and medicinal plants, and the associated quality control systems needed to ensure food safety and product quality. Simon leads the internationally recognized Rutgers New Use Agriculture and Natural Plant Products Program (NUANPP). Goals for the program involve assisting small and medium sized farmers to become more competitive in the commercial marketplace, understanding the factors that drive specialty crops and value-addition markets, discovering new applications and uses of traditional crops, and the strengthening of the natural products industry with a unique specialization in NonTimber Forest Products and aromatic and medicinal plants. With programs in many countries including Ghana, Liberia, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, and Zambia, the NUANPP program and implementing partners have forged strong strategic alliances with the private and public sectors which when used with their market-first science driven approach to development have already helped generate millions of dollars for small-sized farmers and rural communities. With new projects funded by USAID as part of the Horticultural Collaborative Research Support Program, Simon and partners are now involved in strengthening the African indigenous vegetable markets in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. They are also helping to rebuild centers of excellence in engineering at the University of Liberia and agriculture at Cuttington University in post-war torn Liberia.
Daniel Hoffman of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at SEBS studies the biological and environmental factors that cause obesity, especially in children, across the world. His research has, for example, focused on the arrival of large supermarkets in Bulgaria and how that has inspired unhealthy eating. Hoffman argues that by understanding what influences diet and health, programs or policies can be developed that will help improve upon these issues globally. Hoffman also conducts research at Rutgers, including how the “freshman 15,” which refers to the pounds that first-year students gain, affects students in their first year at college.
Ilya Raskin is the president of the Global Institute for BioExploration (GIBEX), a global investigation and development network that provides ethical, natural product-based pharmacological bioexploration to benefit health and the environment in developing countries. Raskin and his team of graduate students are in search of plants, from Tanzania to Uzbekistan and from Ecuador to Bhutan, with the goal of improving human health. Through GIBEX, this team is collecting plants and documenting, extracting, and discovering the beneficial properties of these organisms. GIBEX provides equipment and training for university-based scientists in other countries so that they can tap into their own indigenous natural resources enabling those in developing countries to have far greater ownership and patents for their discoveries. Unique to GIBEX is their reverse flow paradigm, which brings field portable test kits and screens to developing countries rather than relying on the traditional approach of collecting and exporting plant materials out of the country for such initial screening. GIBEX has collaborative partnerships in over 10 countries in Africa, Asia, and South America.
The Rutgers University community understands the importance of proper education and outreach locally and globally when it comes to plant biology, food science and nutrition. Through these programs, initiatives, and public service, the Rutgers community is making a significant impact on research, education, development, and training.