The Huntley College of Agriculture will get a jumpstart on a new minor focusing on plant-based food and nutrition, thanks to a $51,000 gift from Bipin Shah and his wife, Rekha.
The minor would complement the college’s studies in nutrition and food science, which focuses on healthy eating and diets, food processing and chemistry, and the creation of new, nutritional foods. A plant-based diet typically avoids meat products and focuses instead on minimally processed foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts.
“If students don’t get exposure to alternative foods, such as plant-based foods, they have not attained the full breadth of knowledge required to know the entire scope of what kind of foods to offer to people,” Shah said. “Whether they go into a restaurant business or institutional catering, this knowledge is important because more demands are being placed on the food industry to become more cognizant of alternative foods that are healthier and not meat- or animal-based.”
Shah is the CEO and chairman of Kovair Software, a software product company based in San Ramon, California with offices in India. He also contributed towards Cal Poly Pomona’s Ahimsa Center, which guides students, K-12 educators and the community on ways of thinking and living through nonviolence toward others and themselves.
“Vegetarian or plant-based food is friendlier to ecology and the environment,” Shah said. “Having a plant-based minor should be a good option for students to study and then explore it further for themselves in their careers.”
Huntley College of Agriculture students and faculty over the summer and fall will provide input to develop the minor, which includes identifying courses and lab components, and their suggestions will be presented to internal stakeholders, including Cal Poly Pomona administrators, to further refine the curriculum.
Harmit Singh, Nutrition and Food Science Department Chair, led a healthy Indian cuisine competition at Cal Poly Pomona in 2018 to introduce plant-based diets since Indian meals are largely vegetarian. This further developed Shah’s interest in promoting a plant-based nutrition minor at the university.
“I know that the way my wife, my mom and my grandma cooks is important and healthy, but there is not much scientific knowledge to back it up,” Singh said. “We can create that exposure to share the knowledge and information with each other.”
David Edens, Assistant Professor within the Nutrition and Food Science Department, would incorporate classes that teach the medical nutritional aspect of certain plant materials, along with how to cook those ingredients. He also adopts a plant-based diet, in which he consumes limited animal products throughout the week.
“We’re extremely excited that we have dedicated funding to develop the minor,” Edens said. “This is the way America is moving in terms of food. Students interested in plant-based diets will be able to learn not only the nutritional benefits, but also the ecological and sustainable benefits.”