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Three 2012-2013 Challenge Grants use engaged research to study food, diet, and health

Published by on July 25, 2013

Three Graduate Student Research Challenge Grant projects selected for funding in 2012-2013 used community engaged research methods to study food, diet, and health. The Graduate School and the Office of Research and Innovation award Challenge Grants in an effort to build leaders through excellence in collaborative graduate education and research. A team of students submits proposals for one-year projects; at least two of the students must be from two different colleges. The collaborative projects provide students with opportunities to develop research skills that will allow them to excel in their chosen fields.

Steven Williams applying  anthropological methods to the smelly business of food waste research

Steven Williams applying
anthropological methods to the smelly business of food waste research

Towards Sustainability in Food Service: Food Waste Reduction and Recycling for Energy and Fertilizer Use at an Environmental Charter School involved constructing and operating a pilot anaerobic digester to recover the nutrients and energy from the food waste at the cafeteria of Learning Gate Community School in Lutz. The mission of Learning Gate is to promote academic excellence, community service, and environmental responsibility, making it the perfect partner with which to develop an innovative learning platform for sustainable food waste management.

The research team members were: Robert Bair (Team Leader), College of Engineering, Civil & Environmental Engineering; Onur Ozcan, College of Engineering, Civil & Environmental Engineering; Steven Williams, College of Arts & Sciences, Anthropology; Rebecca Loraamm, College of Arts & Sciences, Geography, Environment & Planning; and Herby Jean, College of Engineering, Civil & Environmental Engineering.

The research team also used a geographical information system to project scale-up implications by identifying locations where food waste reduction and recovery programs could be applicable in the City of Tampa. The project received coverage in the local news, including Bright House Networks Bay News 9 and USF News.

Reevaluating the Impact of Urban Agriculture on Food Accessibility through GIS Modeling: An Assets-based Approach to Food Desert Research used GIS methodology and qualitative, community-based research to study land as an asset, whether in use or available for use, in urban agriculture. Working closely with organizations and individuals involved in the Creating a Healthier Sulphur Springs for Kids (CHSSK) coalition, the research team assessed the potential positive effects of urban agriculture on food accessibility in an area labeled by the USDA as a “food desert,” i.e., a food insecure area with few fresh food outlets and numerous fast food outlets.

Herby Jean checking fittings for an anaerobic biodigester

Herby Jean checking fittings for an anaerobic biodigester

The research team members were: Margeaux Chavez (Team Leader), Colleges of Arts & Sciences and Public Health, Anthropology and Community and Family Health; David Godfrey, College of Arts & Sciences, Anthropology; Susan Tyler, Colleges of Arts & Sciences and Public Health, Anthropology and Community & Family Health; and Lorraine Monteagut, College of Arts & Sciences, Geography, Environment & Planning. As research team leader, Chavez’s poster presentation on the Challenge Grant project was awarded as one of the Best College of Public Health Poster Presentations at the 23rd Annual USF Health Research Day.

Their research examined food access and availability from the point of view of community members, and the findings challenge common assumptions about food buying and eating habits. Chavez elaborates, “Traditional food desert studies have not often captured what it means to actually live in a food desert. In fact, many of the Sulphur Springs resident/activists we spoke with resent having their neighborhood labeled ‘food desert’ because that label does not account for community assets or individual efforts to improve the food environment.”

Furthermore, “the community members we interviewed were excited to share their experiences and take an active role in representing their neighborhood.” Chavez and team are disseminating the results of their research in the form of an “action pack” that provides information about accessible land and the local policies governing access to this land. They will also publicly present their findings at one of the CHSSK coalition monthly meetings.

Evaluating Maternal Nutrition in the North Central Andes of Peru: Opportunity for Assessment and Action used a mixed methods approach to assess prenatal nutrition in rural Peru through diet recalls and participatory action research workshops in order to gather information about prenatal diet and the development of a community assets map to explore local access to resources. Maternal mortality rates are high in rural Peru, and changing prenatal nutrition needs to be documented in order to contribute to prevention efforts aimed at improving prenatal health, as well as to understand the local impacts of globalization, which has transformed economic strategies and local livelihoods, contributing to a nutrition transition in many parts of the world.

An excerpt from the award winning poster presentation

An excerpt from the award winning poster presentation

The research team members were: Allison Cantor (Team Leader), College of Arts & Sciences, Anthropology; Kristina Baines, College of Arts & Sciences, Anthropology; Isabella Chan, Colleges of Arts & Sciences and Public Health, Anthropology & Global Health; and Curtis DeVetter, College of Public Health, Global Health. Research team member Isabella Chan was given an Edward H. and Rosamond B. Spicer Student Travel Fund Award by the Society for Applied Anthropology to present on the research at the Society’s 2013 annual meeting. Chan also worked with the Center for Social Well Being, located in the rural highlands of Peru. The Center was a community partner on this research project, and provided training in how to conduct participatory action research with local communities.

The team’s analysis of the data they gathered guided the creation of community education materials promoting healthy prenatal nutrition, and pre- and post-tests were conducted to evaluate the impact of these materials. One of the team’s findings was that women were interested in sharing food recipes with other communities. This led to the compilation of recipes from three different communities into a booklet titled ¡Comer bien!: Un intercambio de recetas, información y actividades nutricionales para las señoras de Shumay, Marcará y Shilla (Eat Well: An Exchange of Recipes, Information, and Nutritional Activities for the Women of Shumay, Marcará, and Shilla).

¡Comer bien! is educational and highlights the healthy aspects of traditional foods, thereby validating indigenous knowledge. The three communities participated in the process of making the booklet, and women in the community designed all the illustrations, which allow them to read the recipes even if they cannot read Spanish (see image below). An earlier version of the booklet was revised after the research team got feedback from additional people in the community. They wanted more pictures and fewer words. As Chan notes, “Participatory action research (PAR) integrates local knowledge, perspectives, and priorities into the research process, guiding the co-construction of products, such as ¡Comer Bien!, that are not only important and relevant to the community, but also usable by its members.”

Recipes from the pages of ¡Comer bien!

Recipes from the pages of ¡Comer bien!

Throughout the process, families were brought together, as Spanish-speaking children reviewed the contents of the book with their parents, and women from the three different communities were very enthusiastic about contributing to a project that allowed them to exchange information about healthy eating madre a madre (mother to mother), thereby strengthening relations between the communities. “The PAR process is cyclical and iterative,” Chan observes, “and therefore demands more time and patience. Nevertheless, by requiring researchers to build meaningful relationships with the community, it also allows them to establish ties that often endure well beyond the completion of the research. So I think it’s well worth the effort!”

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