4/11/2013 11:39:00 AM

A Day in the Life: Robyn Metcalfe, Food Historian

Friendly but intense Robyn Metcalfe heads up the Food Lab at UT Austin, an experimental department that thinks big about our local, national and international food system. For example, right now the lab is working on creating an interactive, crowdsourced, digital map of Austin’s food system.

Before coming to Austin, Metcalfe founded and ran a farm that specialized in heritage livestock breeds, and she is currently the president of the Gloucestershire Old Spots Pigs Association of America. She holds a Ph.D. in historical foodways, and in 2012 she published a book called Meat, Commerce and the City: the London Food Market, 1800 - 1855.

When she’s not thinking deeply about food, she’s training for marathon treks across deserts or up mountains. Oh, and you may have heard of her husband, Bob Metcalfe, who invented the ethernet.


5:00 - 6:00 Wake up. Read the New York Times, sip an espresso, munch on half a slice of whole wheat bread slathered with peanut butter and chocolate hazelnut spread.

6:00 - 7:00 Bike over to Mellow Johnny’s for an hour cycling workout with Kevin Livingston of Pedal Hard.

7:00 - 8:00 Bike home. Quick smoothie of fruit and veg. Shower, breakfast of poached eggs on Easy Tiger toast, shaved Parmesan, Maille whole-grain mustard, espresso from our Rocket espresso machine (either Third Coast or Cuvee beans). Read, make notes for writing, tweet about news related to new developments in the food world.

8:00 - 9:00 Write and prepare for my UT course in European food history. This week we’re reading about the role of food in German war strategy during World War I and II. Check on the current horsemeat scandal in Europe to see if further helpings of horse have been discovered in lasagna.

9:00 - 12:00 Work on the Food Lab, a new project at UT, learning how, where, if UT is interested in pulling its resources together to develop ideas that could help improve the food system. I travel a lot for the job too. Last month I was in New York at The New School listening to Knopf food editor Judith Jones recount her experiences with Marion Cunningham. Last week it was a meeting in Austin with Vincent Ashwill of 24 Diner to lay out the challenges for chefs in Austin. This week we’re planning a “mapathon” to create a digital map of the city’s food system to capture the imagination of Austin’s food community.

Later in the month I’m heading to London, acting in my capacity as president of the Gloucestershire Old Spots Pigs of American breed association. I’ll be representing our members at a big gala for the 100th anniversary of the British equivalent of our association.

12:00 - 1:00 Lunch from Whole Foods’ hot bar (brown rice, kale, chicken), always a small piece of dark chocolate and half an oatmeal cookie. Walk back across the street to the office. I’m watching my new Jawbone data collector that measures all of my personal stats to learn if there’s a potential connection to be made for startups that could integrate personal health stats with buying behavior software.

1:00 - 5:00 Head up to the UT campus for office hours in the history department, then teach the European food history class. Fifty-five students and I discuss how Germany managed its food supply to manage social unrest, strengthen its fighting ability and weaken its occupied populations.

5:00 - 6:30 Laps at the UT pool. Currently training for a 21-mile mountain run up the Zugspitz in Germany in June, with our two children.

6:30 - 7:30 Head over to a meeting in town that is exploring food deserts in Austin, then home for supper. Tonight it’s faro, edamame, pesto, fresh tomatoes, pine nuts, shaved Parmigiano, olive oil. Dessert is a small cup of yogurt, fruit, granola and a small square of dark chocolate.

7:30 – 10:00 Read and answer emails until bedtime. Put down my work and read for about 15 minutes, this week a historical novel set in Paris.

Need to get in touch with the Zagat blog in Austin? E-mail Megan Giller at megzagATX at gmail dot com.

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