“I love food and I love the idea of sustainability. This programme has given me ideas about how to best combine those two things”

How people behave with regards to food and nutrition can be viewed from many different angles. We spoke to one of the current master’s students in the Human Nutrition and Food-Related Behavior (HNFB) -programme, Pinja Päivinen.

Pinja is looking to combine her love of food, interest in sustainability, and experiences in the restaurant industry with an academic approach, building on her previous studies in psychology and philosophy. 

Who is the HNFB programme for?

I would say this programme is for pretty much anyone with interest in and love of food and nutrition. For the Nutrition track it’s necessary to have some background in nutrition, health, or dietetics. But the Food-Related Behaviour track, which I’ve chosen, is directed differently: I have no background in nutrition, and I majored in psychology with philosophy when I did my undergraduate degree in New York State. Academically, I am mostly interested in sociology, psychology and sustainability. And I love food, of course.

People in the programme come from varied backgrounds, some come directly from their undergraduate studies, others have already worked somewhere and are maybe looking to change their careers or add to their knowledge, and thanks to the different experiences we get to learn from each other too.

See which study backgrounds are applicable for the different study tracks here.

I have some years of professional experience in catering and the restaurant industry. I guess it was during this time I started thinking about food more as an academic study. I’ve always loved food and baking, and I thought this programme could be a perfect way to combine two things I love, studying and food! This programme has really given me the opportunity to learn so many new perspectives about food and nutrition, as well as explore other interesting courses on offer.

What is unique about this programme?

I am interested in many things. This is why I’ve always liked the idea of interdisciplinary studies – we need to combine different kinds of knowledge and apply that to sustainability too. The first impression I got from this programme was that it is open, offers different study options to students and an opportunity to explore what you want to focus on. The professors are great and real experts in their field, and the level of teaching is high across different courses. It’s also very easy to approach the tutors and lecturers with any questions or concerns. Both Viikki Campus and the City Centre Campus and their libraries are really nice and students can take classes on both campuses.

What’s it like to study in practice?

While there are some core courses that are the same for both Nutrition and Food Behaviour students, the students have a lot of choice on which areas they are focusing on. During the first year, we all did some core nutrition studies, such as dietary assessment methods, interviews and small-scale studies. I’m now on my second year of the programme and I’ve been taking courses, such as psychology of sustainable behaviour, qualitative research methods to help with my thesis, and even two courses in Italian!  

For my thesis, I joined a project on gourmet culinary culture and sustainability transitions with two other master’s students. In my thesis, I’m likely to focus on fine dining restaurants that are already acting on sustainability and their staff, to explore their discourse on sustainability, how it resonates with their customers and where they think it might be going in the next ten years.

A lot of students also do internships as part of the programme.

What kind of professional options do students have after graduating?

There are many opportunities to work with many food and nutrition-related roles in research, in public health or in the commercial sector, such as food and catering companies. There are also many sustainability-related job opportunities, as sustainability is obviously a huge aspect of food production and consumption.

You can view food in many different perspectives, from individual and societal consumption to food culture, economics and food production. As part of the core courses, we get to meet external speakers and guest lecturers who come from different institutions and organisations, such as THL and we can approach them for career advice or internships afterwards. We’ve also interviewed professionals working in related roles in different organisations and businesses as part of one of the courses.  

I don’t have a clear idea yet about what I’d like to do after graduating. It might be interesting to continue working in a restaurant environment in a way that would also connect to my studies. It would be great, for example, to develop sustainability transitions for restaurants, or work in a research role in an organisation that looks at sustainable food production or consumption.

Many of us working in the catering industry also dream about opening our own café, bakery, or restaurant! It would be great to be able to have a place where you could teach people how to buy food and cook sustainably, be close to food but also be able to share your knowledge with people.

How is your student life in Helsinki?

I think Helsinki is a perfect place to study: the university has a lively student life, the city’s architecture, galleries and museums are good, as well as the nightlife, restaurants and bars. Since it’s not a huge city you’re never too far away from nature if you need a break and want to just have some peace and quiet. All my international student friends are also enjoying their time here and many are keen to stay here after they graduate.

I’m personally quite busy working in a restaurant when I’m not studying, but I live in an area with quite a lot going on socially.  The student life here is quite independent, so you can choose if you want to get involved with all the activities – there are events organised by the university or students almost every other day, so there is a lot going on! Having said that there’s no pressure to do this if you prefer doing your own thing and explore what Helsinki has to offer. There’s everything from mushroom picking and other outdoors activities to “wine and whine” sessions where you can have a drink and talk about things that you’re finding difficult.

Learn more about the Master’s Programme in Human Nutrition and Food-Related Behaviour 

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Master’s Programme in Human Nutrition and Food-Related Behaviour

What happens to food in our body? How does nutrition maintain our health? How do we study the way people use food? How does culture influence our food choices? How is food discussed in the media? How can we change food-related behaviour?

The Master’s Programme in Human Nutrition and Food-Related Behaviour (HNFB) focuses on human nutrition, food-related behaviour and food consumption from the perspectives of public health nutrition, nutrition physiology and the social sciences.