How did you become interested the connections among food, health, and sustainability?
My first research projects were studies of farming families in Costa Rica and Ecuador. Issues of poverty and progress, family farming strategies, and health were all intertwined. In a later phase of my research during the 1980s, I studied the farm crisis in one county in south Georgia, and though malnutrition was not an issue there, many farmers were concerned about the rates of cancer in their families and about the effects of agricultural chemicals. In the 1990s, as I began to study how universities are moving toward sustainability around the country, I was impressed with efforts to build a sustainable food system, to bring healthy, locally grown, organic foods into schools and to teach about the ways in which our food dollars contribute to different production systems—some of which are much better for the ecosystem and for workers. It was particularly satisfying for me because the subject of sustainable food systems combines my previous research on U.S. and developing country farm families and my current work at Emory around sustainability.
Where do you shop, and do you like to cook?
I love to cook, and I shop everywhere—Kroger, Publix, the DeKalb Farmers Market, Sevananda Natural Foods Cooperative, Whole Foods. But I love best my local Morningside Farmers Market on Saturday mornings—where now I can buy organic vegetables twelve months a year. I love learning how to cook new things I buy there, and I like knowing that spending a bit more on a better diet for myself contributes to the welfare of farming families in my region.
For many of us, it seems overwhelming to try to buy all organic or local food, never entering a Publix or Kroger again. What are some manageable steps we can take to change our eating and shopping habits?
Fortunately, we don’t have to give up grocery store shopping. Keep asking your produce manager to stock local produce. Several stores around the University feature local corn, cantaloupes, peaches, and other crops in season. And at present, the main way we can get organic eggs, dairy, and other products is through conventional grocery stores. I’ve found that change for me is easiest if I don’t give up anything. Instead, I try to add something new or try out a new dish on a regular basis. Just as we think about donating to a charity from time to time, we can begin by donating to the survival of local farms by embracing a diet of more fresh, healthy food for ourselves and our families.