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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, May 25, 2024

Friedman School hosts 11th annual Future of Food and Nutrition Research Conference

Dr. Tim Griffin speaks to a group of students at the welcoming reception for Future of Food and Nutrition Conference at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

This past weekend, The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy hosted the 11th Annual Future of Food and Nutrition Graduate Student Research Conference. Graduate students representing a wide range of disciplines and universities gathered to demonstrate their unique approaches to food and nutrition issues. A diverse collection of research was presented, with projects on topics ranging from the relationship of mitochondrial function and intestinal barrier integrity to the food insecurity of undergraduate students.

The welcoming reception that took place on Friday also doubled as an initial poster session for students presenting their research on Saturday.

Ariana Gunderson, an MLA candidate at Boston University's Gastronomy program, expressed her excitement for the energy in the room.

"Everyone is really engaged in all the presenters' work, even if this is just the reception," she told the Daily.

Over 180 people were registered to attend the event, according to Laura Gallagher, an MS candidate at the Friedman School and chair of communications for the conference. On Saturday, the Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences — home of the Friedman School — overflowed with current and prospective students, faculty, researchers and visitors.

Ed Saltzman, the academic dean for education at the Friedman School, opened the conference on a hopeful note.

"The future of food and nutrition is now, and you are the future of food and nutrition," he said.

Emphasizing the importance of the kind of interdisciplinary research represented at the conference, Saltzman concluded his remarks by acknowledging the students in the room.

"I'm delighted that you're here, and I think that as we move forward, the future is indeed in good hands," Saltzman said.

The two speakers invited to the conference, as well as the student presenters, echoed Saltzman's call for a holistic approach to addressing food and nutrition issues.

Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture at Stonyfield Farm and Friedman School alumna, delivered the keynote address. Addressing how consumers can support farmers in making correct decisions about the environment, Lundgren introduced Stonyfield's current approach to sustainability. Lundgren emphasized that if environmental sustainability comes at the expense of financial sustainability for a farmer, the solution is not truly sustainable.

"We haven't achieved sustainability at all if it's at the expense of sustainability in a different sense," she said. "Not only can agriculture be a part of the solution to climate change, but agriculture must be a part of the solution to climate change."

Lundgren repeatedly emphasized the importance of approaching sustainability in a way that simultaneously benefits farmers, the environment and consumers, rather than thinking of each of those factors separately.

Doug Rauch, the founder and president of Daily Table and former president of Trader Joe's, also shared his vision of sustainability and what it means for solutions to food insecurity during a question-and-answer session moderated by Professor of Food Policy at the Friedman School Norbert Wilson. Daily Table is a nonprofit community grocery store that offers healthy food at affordable prices. They currently have two locations, both in Boston.

"We all should feel entitled to lead healthy, happy lives," Rauch noted. He explained how this view led to the transformation of Daily Table from an initiative that resembled a food pantry in its early stages to one that now replicates a retail model. In retail, the store must earn the patronage of the customer, he said. This helps change the power dynamic to provide a "dignified shopping experience to a community that is nutritionally suffering," according to Rauch.

Seventeen student presentations were divided into six sessions based on thematic similarities: food insecurity, child health and nutrition outcomes, sustainable agriculture in relation to dietary patterns, nutrition and health implications, influencing agricultural productivity, and consumer food access and choice.

Many of the students aimed to fill in gaps within existing literature on food and nutrition. Anne Byrne, a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, discussed her findings on food insecurity, a topic that is often understudied within economics literature due to the variability of food pantries and the difficulty in obtaining adequate data.

Sarah Eissler, a Ph.D. candidate in rural sociology at Pennsylvania State University, focused on the role of women within the cacao production chain in Indonesia. Even though they often play critical roles in the cacao production process, women are frequently overlooked, in large part due to their own perception of their roles within their households, Eissler said.

The conversations continued into the hallway and café spaces between sessions as attendees passionately exchanged their thoughts and ideas with each other. Attendees also flowed into the two classrooms filled with poster presenters who readily and enthusiastically responded to questions people had about their research.

The Graduate Student Research Conference is co-ordinated to coincide with the accepted students' open house. One of the poster presenters, Edwin Ortega, is also a prospective student of the Friedman School. Participating in the conference gave Ortega a meaningful opportunity to get to know the school better.

"I didn't realize I would fit in so well," Ortega explained. "I love that people here are interested in the functionality of food in relation to diseases, public policy, health and generally just helping people."

Gallagher also mentioned that having the conference open to incoming students helped solidify her decision to pursue her graduate studies at Tufts.

"Coming to this event was a cool way to see what this school does," Gallagher explained.

In her closing remarks, Ariella Korn, Ph.D. candidate at the Friedman School and co-chair of the conference committee, thanked everyone for their participation.

"We hope you leave with new ideas on how to advance research on food and nutrition topics," Korn said.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect that Ariella Korn is co-chair, not deputy chair, of the conference committee. The Daily regrets this error.