New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Food Studies professor wins University Distinguished Teaching Award

Steinhardt professor Amy Bentley makes the food studies department proud with achievement for outstanding student engagement in teaching.
Lauren Ng
Amy Bentley is a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at NYU. (Lauren Ng for WSN)

The annual University Distinguished Teaching Award recognizes a few full-time faculty members for their commitment to engaging with and mentoring students in their respective fields. For the 2023-24 academic year, professor Amy Bentley was one of the recipients of the award for her work in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development’s food studies department.

Bentley is the co-founder of both the NYU Urban Farm Lab and Experimental Cuisine Collective. She’s also the author of two books, “Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health, and the Industrialization of the American Diet” and “Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity.” As part of the Steinhardt Dean’s Global Honors Seminar — which focuses on food culture and globalization — she also took a cohort of students to Accra, Ghana over spring break.

“The University Distinguished Teaching Award feels like a career highlight, I am truly honored,” Bentley said. “As a professor, you stand up in front of a classroom and you put information out into the world, and you have no idea how people will receive it. The real thrill was getting letters of support from students because we had to solicit letters from them for the nomination. The warm letters and the indication that food studies classes mattered have touched my heart.”

Bentley’s Ph.D. in American Civilization from the University of Pennsylvania, which focused on American cultural history, was very interdisciplinary in nature. Having studied World War II and food rationing, she later got her start at NYU as a young scholar.

The connection between food and science is strong through the Urban Farm Lab, one of Bentley’s favorite projects on campus, which consists of a garden space on Houston Street where students can work with different kinds of produce and study their benefits. Bentley finds gratification in the garden as a classroom — in the middle of a big city like New York City, it’s something special for people of all ages to talk about growing fresh food.

In line with the department’s hands-on approach is the Experimental Cuisine Collective.

“It’s a place where students see people in the food world like chefs, scientists and others could come together and talk about the intersection of food and science in fun hands-on ways,” Bentley said. “We would take field trips and talk about the science of chocolate or seaweed. Recently started up again on a more limited basis.”

Bentley takes pride in incorporating untraditional topics in her lessons, all of which have made her incredibly popular among students.

“We just had a meeting, where we examined the idea of how to measure love as a food ingredient,” Bentley said. “It sounds kind of wacky but that’s actually what we like about this group — we want to understand how love is such an important part of food culturally.”

Blending the histories of food, sustainability, science and nutrition, Bentley aims to help students see the intersections between food and society.

“Food studies is a very small program in a very big university, and I know that a lot of people have not heard about it,” Bentley said. “And we love the idea of being recognized for my teaching, but also making the interdisciplinary study of food more prominent in academia.”

Contact Carina Christo at [email protected].

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