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Oct. 7, 2010 Volume 31, No. 7

Symposium offers buffet of food, fuel and agriculture discussions


Sorting out perspectives on what we eat and why

In a food culture that blends sustainability and “localvorism” with obesity and safety concerns, the messages people receive about what they eat can be confusing. With mainstream news outlets sandwiching features on esoteric dining practices between alarmist reports on contamination, where does the average consumer fit in? What stories are being lost?

Participants in the Mizzou symposium “Food, Fuel and Society: Stories From a Changing Landscape” intend to find out.

Science reporter Ira Flatow, host of NPR’s “Science Friday,” joins journalists, farmers, scientists, activists and MU faculty for a day of discussions starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12, in the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Topics include the economic implications of biofuels, the role of immigration in agriculture, the effects of food-safety legislation on small farms and the impact of “food deserts” that are created when grocers abandon low-income urban communities.

Organizer Janet Saidi, the news director at the MU NPR station KBIA-FM, says panelists plan to delve into the complexities of agriculture production and consumption and to identify media-coverage gaps.

“The rapid changes and the mixed messages are the biggest challenges for journalists covering these issues,” says Saidi, an assistant professor of radio and television in the MU School of Journalism. “Sorting through agendas to get the facts is very difficult. Farmers are affected one way. Environmentalists are affected one way. People who are interested in food in third-world countries and world hunger are affected. Everybody has a different perspective.”

Though largely targeting journalists, the symposium stands at the intersection of multiple academic interests. Most of the funding comes from Mizzou Advantage, a program to increase MU’s visibility and stature in higher education through a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration. The event touches on three Mizzou Advantage initiatives — Food for the Future, Media of the Future and Sustainable Energy — and features faculty from the School of Journalism, MU Extension, the Reynolds Journalism Institute, College of Arts and Science and the College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources.

Coinciding with the symposium is the official launch of Harvest Public Media, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting-supported network through which public radio and television stations in the Midwest can collaboratively report on agriculture across multiple platforms.

“We’re hoping that ‘Food, Fuel and Society’ will not be just a day of discussion,” Saidi says. “We want it to kick off a vibrant ongoing and online community around the issues, connecting people with the stories that need to be out there.”

To learn more or register for the symposium, visit

                                                                                         — Karen Pojmann