Meet Swette Center staff member, Jesse Dart

Jess Dart

In this series, we’re meeting with Swette Center team members to explore their background in food systems, what they are currently working on, and their vision of food systems transformation. 

Read on for an interview with Jesse Dart, Assistant Research Professor. 

When did you first get interested in food systems work?

I’ve been studying food since 2010 from one perspective or another. It took moving to Italy to really understand my interest in food systems. It was in Italy that I learned more about seasonality and small-scale farming. It convinced me to keep studying food and to try to understand it better from a social or cultural perspective. 

What are you working on currently? 

I am currently working on a collaboration with Starbucks trying to identify how they can make their food menu more sustainable by starting with some testers here at the ASU campus. We launched some products at the Memorial Union store a few weeks ago. There will be some new products coming in the springtime. There are a lot of plant-based products, products using upcycled ingredients and products with more sustainably sourced ingredients. 

What do you think is a priority in transforming food systems?

There are two things, one is education and one is turning people more towards taste. I hope that people will choose products that taste good. This usually results in people choosing products that have been grown in a way that makes sense, whether that’s organic or sustainable foods. I think too many times people tend to just eat anything; they’re willing to just pay money for food that probably isn’t very good. Helping people understand a little more about taste is really important and that comes with education. Education about where your food comes from is always important because no matter how much asymmetry, there are just so many people in the world that don’t know where their food comes from. For the most part, people really have no idea.

Any advice for current food systems students?

The best advice I have is to travel. Leave your hometown, go to a different state, go to a different country, go to a different place anywhere and see what those people are eating. Visit the local farmers market and eat at the local restaurant. Do anything to expand knowledge outside of your known hometown or where you’re at school. I think traveling is the best education, especially when it comes to food. You can really learn a lot by seeing what people eat in different countries.

What is your favorite food to make? 

It has to be banana bread because I have it all the time. Every week or every other week I make it because I usually have extra bananas. It’s a super easy recipe for me to use up all the bananas that have become really ripe. Or in the wintertime, I really enjoy making risotto with any type of vegetables and anything seasonal with mushrooms. 

Jane Coghlan