Food Studies Program

In the Spotlight: Food Studies Professor Matthew Hoffman

Practicing What You Teach

Matthew Hoffman

How did you get interested in food studies?
I have a passion for small-scale sustainable agriculture, rural landscapes, and rural communities—all of which are threatened by our current food system.

Why do you think food studies are important?
Many of humanity’s most urgent problems, including climate change, poverty, migration, environmental degradation, and diet-related disease, are closely tied to how agriculture and food systems are organized. For that reason, food studies have become a rallying point for scholars and activists with a wide variety of concerns.

How did your career path lead you to this field?
I grew up in a landscape where farms were getting fewer and larger and communities were in conspicuous decline. As an undergrad I worked for an international development organization that took a systems perspective and focused on small-scale, low external-input agriculture. I got to thinking that the same approach might make sense for American agriculture and rural communities as well. I studied organic horticulture at UC Santa Cruz and farmed in Vermont for a number of years before pursuing a PhD in Rural Sociology and Community Development at Cornell University.  Before coming to USM, I taught in the Food Studies Program at New York University and was a guest researcher at the Norwegian Centre for Rural Research.

What excites you about USM’s new Food Studies Program?
I have had my eye on the USM Food Studies Program since the beginning. The organizers have done a fantastic job planning the program and won me over immediately with their explicit emphasis on the environment and poverty—the food system’s two biggest challenges. Maine is also a wonderful place to be studying food systems, with its many farming and fishing communities that are both in need of and at the forefront of developing a new future for food.

What advice do you have for students who want to work in food-related fields?
Develop a good overall understanding of how our food system is organized and the forces that animate it. Develop a specific understanding of how food system structure and its animating forces affect issues that you care about. Gain practical work experience and skills while building network connections. Pro tip: Food Studies minors at USM have the opportunity to do paid internships with regional food systems partner organizations for credit. 

What’s a fun fact about you?
Used to train and farm with oxen.

What issues are you excited about teaching in your classes?
I like teaching students not only how agriculture and food systems have changed in the modern era, but also about the forces driving these changes. This prepares students to move beyond identifying problems to strategizing about solutions.  

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