(03/19/21) BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU AgCenter recently partnered with Mendel University in the Czech Republic to host a weeklong virtual symposium where experts from both institutions discussed topics including food waste, safety, production, technology and nutrition.
The event, held March 15 to 19, also served as the kickoff of an online class co-taught by LSU AgCenter and Mendel professors and available to students at both universities.
About 450 people took part in the event, including faculty, staff, students and alumni of the two universities; participants from Southern University and LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center; and business partners.
“We’ve had such a wonderful strategic partnership with Mendel University,” said Bill Richardson, LSU vice president for agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture. He said student exchanges, faculty collaboration on research projects and even a joint patent are examples of the two institutions’ cooperation, which dates back to 2014.
Richardson said organizers had hoped to hold a joint symposium in person last year. The outbreak of the coronavirus upended those plans, but provided important new areas of discussion for the event.
“The COVID experience put a lot of interest on how we produce, how we prepare and how we consume foods,” he said. “During lockdowns, a lot of things changed. … I think it’s had a lasting impression on the whole concept of where we’re going with food and creativity and innovation.”
It also has sparked new ideas about how the AgCenter and Mendel can work together, said Wade Baumgartner, AgCenter associate vice president.
“This opportunity to look at the world as it’s changed through the lens of COVID-19 and looking at local food supply and food security issues is a new chance to imagine our cooperation together and how we can work together to solve problems locally, regionally and internationally,” he said.
One discussion centered on projects in Louisiana and the Czech Republic examining ways to quantify food waste and encourage people to reduce it. Eating habits and routines have shifted in the past year because of the pandemic, so researchers are hoping to work together to study how these changes have affected food waste.
Another presentation focused on fruits and vegetables that are grown in both countries, and research being conducted at the AgCenter and Mendel to improve production. Medicinal plants and superfoods were discussed, and food safety issues were the theme of another talk.
Students from the two universities had a chance to compare and contrast experiences from their campuses and countries. And the first session of a class titled “International Comparative Analysis of Regional Food Systems” was held during the symposium.
Attendees also heard about two unique AgCenter food facilities on the LSU campus: the Dairy Store, which sells ice cream and other dairy products made in-house, and the Food Incubator, which helps people start food businesses.
Recordings of the presentations can be viewed at www.lsuagcenter.com/FoodSymposium.