When I was growing up in California, USA, in the late 1950s and 1960s fast foods and processed snacks were novelties and people still ate meals that were homemade from whole foods. The state was famous for its agricultural abundance. My earliest memory of the politics of food was a national consumer boycott of grapes in support of striking migrant farm workers in California.
In the 1970s, my undergraduate studies at the City University of New York focused on geography and anthropology and my interest in development in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean in particular began. As a student, I had opportunities to travel to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Cuba. I decided to focus on international agriculture and enrolled in graduate school at the University of California, Davis. Like today, some advocated that nutrition should play a prominent role in national planning. My interest in health as well as agriculture led me to enter the population science/human ecology program at the Harvard School of Public Health in the early 1980s.
My early jobs combined research and advocacy. I worked for Oxfam America, the international nutrition program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Boston community health department and an adult literacy agency. When I joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1990, I worked as a technical editor of an inter-disciplinary journal, Food, Nutrition and Agriculture. This gave me the opportunity to broaden my understanding of the global food system.
After a few years at FAO, I returned to graduate school on a part time basis, taking up food policy and applied nutrition at Tufts University. Always committed to nutrition communication and the public’s right to information, I I studied food labeling. During this time, I worked on food-based dietary guidelines for FAO. Today I combine my interest in food labeling with work on nutrient recommendations. I also work on projects to promote indigenous foods and conserve biodiversity.
Since FAO has its headquarters in Rome, I have had the pleasure of living in Italy for more than 20 years. During this time, I have observed how the highly valued Italian food cultures are being influenced by globalization and changing lifestyles. I expect to continue to be engaged in work to improve nutrition and the global food system when I return to California in the future.