Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Food Systems

First Advisor

Amy B. Trubek

Second Advisor

Teresa Mares


Agriculture is an ancient human activity that has always changed the Earth. But the scale and scope of modern, industrialized agriculture is producing emergent problems in the food system, like unprecedented environmental degradation and high-calorie nutrient-poor diets that are driving poor health outcomes. Increasing cooking skills and the frequency of home cooking have been proposed as solutions to escalating rates of nutrition-related public health problems and may also be important to meeting diet-related sustainability goals like reducing meat consumption. Subsequently, the overarching aim of this thesis is to situate the importance of cooking as a strategy for food systems transformation, then make the case for immersive, qualitative, and longitudinal research to study the impact of food agency in emerging adulthood, a liminal lifestage (ages 18-29) characterized by identity exploration and growing autonomy that may increase receptivity to behavior modification. Food agency describes why some individuals are able to set and achieve food-related goals while others struggle to do so. Those with more food agency may be more capable and empowered to enact the types of sustainable plant-forward diets proposed to improve the food system’s emergent problems.The objective of the mixed-methods study described in this thesis was to assess the impact of an intervention to build food agency during emerging adulthood, given that the malleability and liminality of emerging adulthood may present an optimal window for intervention. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with University of Vermont students who had previously completed a 1-credit cooking course based on a pedagogy to build food agency. Food agency was measured via the 5-point Cooking and Food Provisioning Action Scale (CAFPAS). Qualitative data was analyzed using a grounded theory approach, triangulated with extensive participant observation conducted prior to the study, and interpreted through the lens of emerging adulthood. This thesis contends that cooking is a solution to the dilemmas of the modern food system, and argues that emerging adulthood is a crucial moment for food agency interventions that build confidence and capability and create positive attitudes and feelings of self-efficacy toward cooking and the cooking process.



Number of Pages

170 p.

Available for download on Tuesday, June 18, 2024