Wednesday, October 26, 2016

MSU's world of food has plenty to offer

By Michaela Oldfield / Global Food Law Fellow

You may have noticed it’s been a while since my last post. Well, my fellowship with the Institute for Food Laws & Regulations is wrapping up, so I’ve been occupied with finishing journal articles and frankly not quite sure what to write for a final post.

Except I don’t want to never post again and leave people thinking, “Did she move to Iceland or Peru or somewhere?” (No, those are just places I would like to visit some day)

Michaela Oldfield at the MSU summer food law seminar.
I spent some time pondering whether to write about a recent food law issue and act like nothing is changing – for instance, I could write something explaining the possible importance and very gnarly knot of the FDA deciding to redefine healthy - or I considered trying to give some current and future food law students advice about how to build a food law career.

Or, and this is what I’ve decided to do, I can write a bit about food law as part of the larger educational opportunities at Michigan State University. Because even though I’m looking forward to the next step of my career, I want others to recognize and take advantage of the amazing resources at MSU.

My original purpose with this blog has been to try to demonstrate to current and potential students how lawyers might analyze a food policy issue. I wanted to give readers an idea of what it means to “think like a lawyer” so that they could see what they would be getting into if they pursued a Certificate in International Food Law or a Master’s in Global Food Law.

I would also note there are a number of other online degrees that match up nicely with these programs, including a master’s degree in food safety or public health and perhaps even an MBA.

Of course, I’ve strayed from my legal analyses because I’m not only a lawyer. I’ve also studied sociology, geography, public policy, political science, behavioral economics, etc., as part of an interdisciplinary Ph.D. to understand the history and operations of our food and agriculture systems policies. It is hard for me to separate my policy-oriented thinking from precise legal analysis, because what I care about is the “so what” of the legal analysis for understanding the larger systems issues.

I chose MSU for my graduate studies because it’s a place I could study food law and policy from these numerous angles. I wanted to gain understanding of the variety of perspectives on how food systems operate and build skills for critically analyzing what is wrong with, and how to fix, our food systems. I consider this interdisciplinary thinking key to solving challenges such as public health and sustainability (among a potential litany of others) because no one discipline can fully understand things so complex as our food and agriculture systems and the societies in which they operate. 

Being on campus, I’ve also been able to connect with faculty across the university studying food systems from any number of angles – food science, food safety, nutrition, ag econ, international development, agrifood sociology, labeling and standards, regional food systems development, local food systems planning, entomology, crop and soil sciences, the list easily goes on and on. But I have known and/or worked with someone in each of these areas whose work I think is exciting and valuable. 

As the Global Food Law Fellow, I’ve been able to really dive into the nitty gritty of food law issues, including through writing this blog. Working with our students and planning the Food Law Seminar has been a rewarding experience that has given me new perspective on the regulatory complexities and challenges facing food companies. But everything I’ve learned has been informed by my interactions with other MSU researchers, and, I think, helped me develop a more nuanced understanding of these challenges. 

For anyone interested in food law or food systems, there really is an incredible abundance and diversity of researchers here who can broaden your perspective on the context in which food law operates. So while I’m sure many of you already know that MSU is a leader in Food Law, also remember it is a leader in many other food issues.

Which is all to say, when you discover you need expertise beyond food law, go explore some of the rest of what MSU has to offer.

Skál and chau!!!

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