Our education efforts focus on training a professional workforce equipped to examine and address food system challenges from production through consumption and waste. Specifically, our students are provided with training on the theories, approaches, and tools to critically evaluate the ecological, socio-economic, cultural, human health dimensions of food systems from multiple perspectives including the lens of equity. We have developed and teach seminar, lab, and field-bases courses on food system topics at the undergraduate and graduate levels as well as provide academic mentorship on research projects at Montana State University. Central attributes of our Sustainable Food Systems education efforts include: (1) systems thinking, (2) multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinarity, (3) experiential learning and, (4) collective action and service-learning projects. This includes hands-on educational opportunities in food environments in our surroundings. Our teaching draws on pedagogical training and practice at a range of institutions as well as continued professional development and participation in teaching communities of practice including the Teaching Food Systems Community of Practice hosted by Columbia University. 


Please email us to learn more about the Sustainable Food System Graduate and Undergraduate programs at MSU or if you are interested in pursuing a research project through the Food and Health Lab.


We mentor students through the above programs as well as through the following research opportunities at Montana State University:


Food and Culture (NUTR 301)

Instructor: Carmen Byker Shanks, PhD, RDN

Food is an essential component of life and livelihoods everywhere. However, food patterns vary across the globe. Diets are shaped by cultures, influencing the foods people can and do eat. Dietary practices present important implications for the health and development of individuals as well as groups. Drawing upon a socioecological framework, students will build cultural competency by examining and experiencing the concurrent influences of food and culture over the course of history.

Food System Resilience, Vulnerability, and Transformation (SFBS 466)

Instructor: Selena Ahmed, PhD

What is resilience? What is the importance of applying the concept of resilience to food systems? How can we design resilient food systems that can mitigate risk in the context of environmental and socio-economic change towards achieving sustainability? As actors in the food system, how can we develop our personal resilience?

In this seminar-based course, we will examine these questions within the framework of socio-ecological systems. This course will start with building a theoretical foundation on resilience thinking through an examination of case studies that illustrate core resilience concepts including adaptive capacity, management, complexity, thresholds, regime shifts, transformation, and vulnerability. Next, we will turn our attention to implementing resilience thinking in designing sustainable food systems including the dimensions of production, consumption, and food waste. On the production side, we will focus on adaptive management of agroecosystems in the context of global environmental change. This will include agroecosystem design principles that draw from indigenous and innovative agricultural management. On the consumption side, we will focus on food security including factors that resist or encourage food environment transitions and dietary transitions. Throughout the semester we will also carry out exercises of mindfulness regarding how we can develop our own personal resilience as stakeholders as well as potential future leaders in the food system. Ultimately, we will be able to identify the socio-ecological determinants of resilience in order to design adaptable food systems that support environmental and human health in the context of global change.

Global Food Perspectives (SFBS 551)

Instructor: Selena Ahmed, PhD

From the diversified home gardens of South East Asia to the dietary guidelines of Brazil, food tells a unique story about people, place, and perspectives. In this course, we will journey to a different region of the globe each week and explore food systems from multiple perspectives and dimensions of sustainability, as well as the interaction of these perspectives and dimensions. In our exploration, we will focus on how environmental, cultural, socio-economic, and political factors of a place influence food, behavior, and human health. In turn, we will examine how production and consumption practices feed back into the food system to influence the environment, markets, identity, and equity. Our explorations of place-based food system will emphasize the dynamism of food systems and sustainability under the context of global change including the nutrition transition, globalized trade, and climate change. Ultimately, we will synthesize our understanding of global food perspectives to critically evaluate our current food system and design sustainability innovations.

Measuring Innovation in the Food System (SFBS 327)

Instructor: Selena Ahmed, PhD

What are the effects of indigenous and innovative farm management practices such as agro-forestry on crop yield and quality? Why do farmers select these management practices? What are benefits of a specific management technique for farmer livelihoods and consumer wellbeing?

In this interdisciplinary research methods course, you will learn natural and social science tools to address such questions on the sustainability of food systems through an evidence-based approach. Students will be provided training on all stages of the research process in the field and lab from idea conceptualization to experimental design, proposal preparation, research implementation, data collection, analysis, and dissemination of findings. Natural science methods will draw from agro-ecology and plant sciences including manipulative experiments, ecological transects, botanical collections, and phytonutrient analysis in the lab. Social and health science methods will draw from cultural anthropology, economic and behavioral studies, epidemiology, and citizen science approaches including participation observation, observational analysis, structured interviews, consumer willingness-to-pay surveys, and sensory analysis. By the end of this course, students are expected to have a better idea on how to measure if a plan or intervention is sustainable on the basis of multiple aspects of sustainability.

Nutrition and Society (NUTR 351)

Instructor: Carmen Byker Shanks, PhD, RDN

Nutrition and Society (NUTR 351) introduces students to the relationship between food, nutrition, agricultural practices, programs, and policies that influence public health. For the first time in many students’ academic career, they learn about the social determinants of nutritional status, community nutrition program planning and implementation, and cultural food diversity, as well as to conduct a community needs assessment. This course stretches the minds of students looking for clear answers to the causes and consequences of obesity and chronic disease or focused on the consumption or agricultural end of the food system.

Research Methods in Health and Human Development (HHD 512)

Instructor: Carmen Byker Shanks, PhD, RDN

Research Methods in Health and Human Development (HHD 512) prepares graduate students in the Department of Health and Human Development with tools to conduct research in their respective field. Students learn about various research methods by building their own graduate work, including preparing and presenting a research proposal. Through class time, readings, and assignments during this course, students develop and refine a researchable question, learn techniques to search for and interpret literature and integrate into evidence-based practice, distinguish between research designs, evaluate methodology for purpose, feasibility, validity, and reliability, propose a significant, feasible, valid, and reliable research project, and develop a variety of communication skills to translate research to various public audiences.

State of the Food Environment: Policy, Measurement, and Practice (SFBS 552)

Instructor: Selena Ahmed, PhD

How do consumers interact with the food environment? How does this vary based on geographic and demographic factors? What variables impact food environments? How do key food environment parameters of food availability, affordability, convenience, desirability, quality, and sustainability impact food security, dietary quality, and human wellbeing? What are ways to characterize natural and built food environments? How can we improve food environments for wellbeing?

In this five-module online course, we will examine these questions within the frameworks of socio-ecological theory and sustainable food systems. This course will start with an overview of the food environment including a typology for understanding natural and built food environments. We will examine the role of the food environment within food systems for supporting sustainable diets and planetary health. In doing so, we will focus on the key food environment parameters of food availability, affordability, convenience, desirability, quality, and sustainability. In Module 2, we will focus on environmental and production factors influencing parameters of the food environment. In Module 3 we will focus on economic and food chain factors associated with the food environment. In Module 4, we will focus on socio-cultural factors associated with the food environment. In the last module of this course, we will focus on human health factors associated with the food environment. Along the way, we will apply various metrics to evaluate food environments. Our analysis will focus on critical policies that influence the food environment. Ultimately, we will integrate our socio-ecological understanding of natural and built food environments to design and implement strategies, interventions, and programs to improve food environments to meet current and future societal needs. This course will culminate in the student evaluation of a food environment and design of a food environment intervention to more effectively manage challenges in our food system.