May 27, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Become a Food Master: How to Get Your Graduate Degree in Food

So you have a college degree, but maybe your curiosity or your career won’t let you stop there. There are many ways to study food at the graduate level, depending on your skills and interests in this rapidly growing field. Any graduate degree can be a huge investment of time and money. But, whether it’s for a career change or advancement in your profession, it’s worth knowing what kind of food-related graduate degrees are out there.

Credit: Jens Schott Knudsen

Credit: Jens Schott Knudsen

Culinary schools and programs have a long history in the United States, and even longer in Europe. Practically oriented, these programs can offer you a leg up if you’re looking to get a position as a chef in a restaurant. There is some debate about whether it is worthwhile to get such a costly degree: a two-year associate’s degree (a fairly commonplace format for the programs) costs anywhere from $35,000 to $54,000. Some say that the skills one learns in a culinary program can be learned on the job in a restaurant, while others argue that such programs are the best way to learn necessary skills slowly and well while outside of the fast-paced environment of a working restaurant. An education in cuisine can also benefit those looking to work in a certain vein of food writing or food education, using cooking expertise to communicate with others. Just a couple of options include a 600-hour professional degree from the International Culinary Center in New York City and an Associate of Science degree from The Art Institute (campuses nationwide).

Sustainable Food
Graduate programs focused around sustainability can take many forms – agriculture, food systems, and even management. The addition of the concept of sustainability to these programs means that, aside from their normal curricula, they consider how the use of finite natural resources impacts the production of food or the running of a business. These programs tend to study both biological and socioeconomic factors in the goal of sustainability. Depending on the program’s structure and focus, MA, MS, or PhD degrees are available. The Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State offers both MS and PhD degrees. A Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems is available from Green Mountain College. The University of Wisconsin-Extension offers a Masters in Sustainable Management.

Agriculture/Land Grant
Agriculture degrees date back to the nineteenth century in the United States, due in part to the Morrill Act of 1862, which provided federal funds to public universities in order to teach a practical knowledge of agriculture. Many of the universities founded by this Act continue to have educational strengths in both undergraduate and graduate curricula in agriculture and the “mechanical arts.” These institutions tend to be big enough that they offer countless ways to study agriculture – animal breeding, agricultural economics, plant pathology, poultry science, and agribusiness, just to name a few. MA, MS, MEng, MAgr, and PhD degrees are all available in a variety of fields at Texas A&M. The University of California, Davis offers MS and PhD degrees in Agricultural and Resource Economics, as well as a number of graduate degrees in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Food Science & Nutrition
These two areas of food study often appear together, as both are concerned with the chemical composition of the food we eat. Studying nutrition can lead to working in food and nutrition research or becoming a practicing dietitian. Food science, on the other hand, can lead to careers in food safety and the food manufacturing industry. Coursework in chemistry and microbiology specific to the effect of nutrients in living creatures allows for an understanding of how food affects animal and human health, as well as how that food is chemically composed. Sometimes, these degrees can include programs to become accredited dietitians. The University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources offers both MS and PhD degrees in Nutrition and Food Science, as does Kansas State University.

Interdisciplinary graduate degrees in food policy rely on courses in nutrition, economics, statistics, public policy, communications, and other departments to prepare graduates for work in governmental and non-governmental organizations. Studying food policy requires tackling the question of who “wins” and who “loses” in the current food system. In fact, there aren’t as many strictly “food policy” degrees as there are Masters in Public Policy (MPP) programs, in which you can still learn these interdisciplinary skills and then apply them to food advocacy work. However, New York University’s Food Studies MA has a Food Systems concentration that has a political focus and the Friedman School at Tufts University offers MS and PhD degrees in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition.

In more humanities-oriented fields of study, degrees exist in Food Culture and Food Studies. Drawing from the fields of history, literature, and the social sciences, graduates from programs like these are able to research and write about how our food system has taken its current form, both at the production and consumption ends. The Graduate Center at CUNY offers an interdisciplinary PhD in Food Studies. For a slightly different focus, there’s the PhD in Anthropology of Food offered by Indiana University at Bloomington.

 -Katja Jylkka