Campus: CSU, Northridge -- June 13, 2001

Magaram Center Celebrates 10 years of Studying Food

Can the konjac plant, which grows in certain parts of Asia, be an effective fat substitute? And just what role does a B-vitamin complex play in your food?

These are just some of the nutritional and dietary questions explored by the faculty and students who make up Cal State Northridge's Marilyn Magaram Center for Food Science, Nutrition and Dietetics, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

"We've done a lot of good work in the past 10 years," said Alyce Blackmon, chair of CSUN's Department of Family Environmental Sciences, which houses the center. "Faculty and students are involved in research and community outreach projects that serve low-income families. And the center has become a vital resource for professionals in the fields of nutrition and food."

The university is marking the anniversary with an invitation-only fundraiser Friday, June 15, featuring cooking demonstrations by some of Los Angeles' leading chefs in the center's new state-of-the-art kitchens.

Among those taking part are Raphael Lunetta, owner and chef of JiRaffe in Santa Monica; Betsy Corrigan, graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and executive chef of CSUN's University Club; Jacqueline Keller, author, executive chef and founding director of NutriFit; Carrie Latt Wiatt, author, television personality and founder of Diet Designs; and Curtis Tachiki, chef at The Grill located in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica.

"Their demonstrations will emphasis health as well as the esthetics of food," Blackmon said.

Tung-Shan Chen, director of the Magaram Center, explained that the field of food science is not just about cooking, but rather the entire food process - from harvesting to everything involved until the food ends up on someone's plate - and the minerals and vitamins one receives from food.

The Magaram Center's staff and students examine food and its effects on people of all ages, the physical changes food undergoes in processing and preservation, and the behavioral aspects of food consumption.

Research projects have included the use of the konjac plant, which is grown in Korea, China, Taiwan and Japan, as a fat substitute and pioneering efforts to set a standard for how folic acid is measured in food. Folic acid has been hailed as a vital nutrient for pregnant and nursing women as well as for its uses in the fight against cancer and heart disease.

The center also has several community outreach programs, including a nutrition lecture series, a "Brown Bag" film series, pre-natal health care education and nutrition education for families.

The center serves as the regional coordinator for Los Angeles' Project LEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activities and Nutrition), a statewide effort to train high school students to become advocates for healthy lifestyles. The Magaram students and faculty members also are analyzing the food in high school cafeterias and recommending changes.

The center publishes a trilingual newsletter (in English, Spanish and Armenian) that is regularly sent to more than 1 million low-income families in Los Angeles County to provide them with health and nutrition information, including healthy, tasty recipes made with inexpensive products and exercises that can be done in the home.

Blackmon said the center is the only one of its kind at a California university.

It was named for Marilyn Magaram, a CSUN graduate and former instructor in the Family Environmental Sciences Department who died in a whitewater rafting accident in 1989 while on vacation with her family in Australia. 

Blackmon pointed out that it is rare for a university to name a facility after a faculty member. "It's extraordinary to have a center named after a faculty member who was so loved and respected by her students and colleagues," she said.

Chen, who taught Magaram when she was a graduate student, said the center's research on folic acid is actually an extension of a project initiated by Magaram, who during the early 1980s studied the folic acid content of bean sprouts.

After spending more than six years working out of makeshift trailers following the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake, the center moved into its new home in Sequoia Hall this January.

The state-of-the-art facility includes a food science lab featuring four kitchen vignettes - two commercially oriented and two set up to resemble residential use - and food sensory evaluation booths in which researchers can test consumer acceptance of new foods.

The center's new home also features a 125-seat auditorium with a complete demonstration kitchen and $250,000-worth of audio and visual equipment.

As Chen looks to the next 10 years, he is already planning on using the auditorium's audio and visual equipment to teach classes at other universities around the country and anticipates additional research projects as new faculty join the center.

"If they are anything like the past 10 years, the years ahead are going to be pretty exciting," Chen said. "I'm looking forward to them."

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