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Food Systems 101

An Introduction to the Politics of Food & Beverage

Food Systems 101 is Studio ATAO's first full curriculum examining the connection between the systems of food & beverage in the United States explicitly through a social justice lens. This curriculum offers those working within the food, beverage, and hospitality community an accessible, yet comprehensive, understanding of the inherent politics of the systems that affect them every day.

Curriculum Overview



More than 19 million people work within the U.S. food system, encompassing everything from agricultural production to branded spirits, food magazines to bars. However, there remains a critical gap in who receives formal food education.


While some higher education institutions increasingly cover food systems and their history, the existing resources are traditionally academic, often containing gaps and lacking cultural relevance and accessibility to the majority of individuals working within the system itself. Food and beverage education, if/when discussed in school systems, focuses largely on access and ‘healthy eating,’ both of which are important themes but not thoroughly explored within the larger context of social justice. 


We believe that food is inherently political in every way. That is, it informs the traditional structures which govern our society and ultimately, how we relate to one another. Food and drink have always served as a mechanism for control. Thus, when confronting the repercussions of the U.S. food system, it is critical to probe deeper into the power, privilege, and decision-making processes underpinning areas such as:


Agriculture & the Global Supply Chain

Who owns the land that supplies the raw ingredients for our food, wine, spirits? What supply chains are, or are not available, for certain crops? 

The way we eat and drink dictates how we have and continue to interact with each other on a global scale, within our communities, and on an individual basis. All of these truths reinforce the significance of having a full understanding and meaning of the ways in which we occupy space within the food system. Education becomes an even more critical ingredient to urgently address and cultivate radical food systems change from the ground-up. 

Food and drink have always been essential tools for protest, revolution, and movement building. Since colonization and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Indigenous, Black and Migrant foodways have utilized strategies like hunger strikes, mutual aid, reparation bills, etc. to directly resist oppressive systems, demand shifts in policy, and build alternative institutions rooted in reclamation. Although at times it may feel that the corporatized systems of food and beverage today are inevitable and unchanging, we hold firm that the possibility and opportunity for systems transformation is possible, and in front of us.

“The challenges before us are monumental. We are not obligated to complete the task of repair but we are required to act at the intersection of our capability and what the world needs. To maintain silence is to cast our vote for the status quo, to passively endorse a racist and exploitative food system, and to deny ourselves agency over the destiny of our community.”

- Leah Penniman


Our Goals

This curriculum will address the systemic injustices within the broader food & beverage system, and empower continued work towards equitable solutions. It will prioritize equipping those working across the food system with a deep and holistic understanding of the systems directly impacting their lives. Our goals for this initiative are three-fold:


  1. Actively increase knowledge and deeper understanding of the historical context and evolution of the structures of the U.S. food system.

  2. Document, highlight, and amplify the existing practices of centered individuals and communities as both experts and learners, emphasizing the use of non-traditional education. 

  3. Decentralize traditional systems of education and power, and increase commitment to the development of structures that center food sovereignty.


In 2007, the first global forum on food sovereignty defined it as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”


Similarly, we aim to design a curriculum with content that centers the lived experience and points of view of those who have historically been exploited and overlooked when food & beverage systems are covered and discussed. This also applies to how the curriculum will be designed: given that many folks within food, beverage, and hospitality do not work in front of a computer, this curriculum will be offered in both English and Spanish, and offer both desktop and mobile versions. No former academic knowledge of food systems is required to participate. Once complete, the curriculum will be made available for purchase on a sliding scale, with free or subsidized access for those holding marginalized identities. 


101 Curriculum (2022-24)

An introduction to food systems, its history, and foundational vocabulary, followed by an overview of each of the six Core Modules (see below).

Little Bites (2023-24)

A series of short-form social videos with bite-sized food education (see right).

102 Curriculum (2024-25)

A deep-dive into each of the six Core Modules from the 101 curriculum (see below), all led by specific subject matter experts.


Live Cohort Learning (2024)

Small groups that gather weekly over the course of 3 months to learn each module of Food Systems 101 together, led by a Studio ATAO facilitator.

Organizational Access (2024)

The 101 curriculum will also be made available to food and beverage organizations as an internal resource, to normalize and standardize food systems education.


Community Organizing Partnerships (2024-25)

We aim to implement this curriculum in collaboration with organizations that are actively servicing the FBH industry, and utilize it as an opportunity to rally community members to activate politically.

Curriculum Outline


The 101 curriculum will comprise 8 Modules, starting with a Food & Beverage History Timeline and Vocabulary, then six Core Modules, and ending with a forward-looking Food & Beverage Futures Module. Each of these six Core Modules will be explored as a cyclical loop, feeding into and building from one another, arriving at the state of food & beverage today.

Food Systems 101 Cycle (1).png

Each of the six Core Modules explored in the 101 curriculum will be further explained in the 102 curriculum, launching throughout 2023. Throughout each Core Module, there will be particular attention paid to how Black, Indigenous, and Immigrant contributions have shaped the U.S.


Each Core Module will be visioned and designed in collaboration with subject matter experts. The Core Modules will follow an arc of pre-recorded videos, readings, audio lessons, self-reflection prompts, and embedded engagement activities. Learners can expect ~10 hours of concentrated work for the 101 curriculum.


A community Discord is available for ongoing discussion, and live cohort learning will be offered 2-4 times yearly starting in 2023. Each Core Module will be grounded in academic research, but the content will intentionally be built in a way that is accessible to all learners. 


Our Advisors
Krishnendu Ray

Krishnendu Ray is a Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University. He is the author of The Migrant’s Table (2004) and The Ethnic Restaurateur (2016) and the co-editor of Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food and South Asia (2012). He was formerly a faculty member and the Acting Associate Dean of Liberal Arts at The Culinary Institute of America and the President of The Association for the Study of Food and Society. He is an Editorial Collective Member of the Food Studies journal Gastronomica.

Errol Scweizer

Errol Schweizer has over 28 years of experience in the food industry, from grill cook and stock clerk to V.P. of Grocery at Whole Foods from 2009-2016. In that role, his team grew department sales to over U.S. $5B by supporting the launch and commercialization of thousands of local products and emerging brands. Supermarket News has recognized Errol with a Retail Game-changer award and he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Hemp Industries Association. Errol is also a regular Forbes contributor and is host of The Checkout Podcast.


Adrian Lipscombe is a native Texan who began her career in city planning after graduating from UT San Antonio with a Masters in Architecture. Adrian is the founder of the 40 Acres Project, which seeks to preserve the legacy of Black agriculture and foodways through the purchase of Black-owned land. Adrian is a founding member of the Muloma Heritage Center, a non-profit organization that is
an educational, culinary, and pastoral destination exploring the African Atlantic influences in American culture, and a Board member of the Edna Lewis Foundation. Adrian is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Urban and Regional
Planning at the University of Texas at Austin.


Neftalí Duran is a community cook, advocate, educator, and organizer, working towards an equitable food system and building a network of Indigenous food leaders. He is the co-founder of the I- Collective, an Indigenous collective that promotes a healthy food system that values people, traditional knowledge, and the planet over profit; as well as the Holyoke Food and Equity Collective, a local group of volunteers working toward food access in Holyoke, where he presently resides. Neftalí’s work is informed by his own experience as an Indigenous (ñuu savi) and formerly undocumented migrant worker and 20 years of experience in the restaurant and food industry as chef, baker, and small business owner. 

Support this Curriculum




Democratize access to critical food & beverage education for FBH workers! Sponsorships offer free scholarships to the curriculum for QTBIPOC workers.

Please reach out to our Head of Education, Radhika Sharma, to discuss further.

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