I developed an interest in food systems, sustainability, and public health through a series of incremental realisations. During my undergraduate and master’s training, I learned about nutrition education techniques and behaviour change interventions. I came to realise, however, that much of this area seemed to be focused solely on individual changes to improve health. I also noticed that many colleagues around me seemed to believe that real change could only be achieved through enhanced personal responsibility for health.
This never really explained the whole picture for me. It wasn’t until I began a postdoctoral research assistantship under Dr. Kelly Brownell at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, that I learned just how important environmental and policy factors are in determining an individual’s ability to remain healthy and fit. During my time at the Rudd Center, I developed the belief that personal or individual responsibility for health really can be achieved only when the food and physical activity environments are built to support individual efforts at being healthy. That is, only when social responsibility for health comes first can personal responsibility follow.
Once I became an assistant professor, I realised I needed to move my focus further upstream, considering not only health outcomes as end results, but also taking into consideration the very sources of our food and their availability to various populations. This meant considering seriously not only how healthy our food supply was, but also the ethical and sustainability-related implications of its production. As such, I now focus on local food production and various mechanisms to improve access to these nutritious whole foods for low-income populations. I also work to discover ways in which local, alternative food systems can become viable in the locations in which they operate.