“Food is a good entry point into a lot of important conversations – from sustainability to culture to social justice. It’s tangible and personal – it makes sense to people. What’s exciting to me – and what is so powerful about GFI – is taking it a step further. It’s using food to bring people together to solve some of the challenges facing my generation.”
– Hannah Malan, UC GFI Fellow
I first met UCLA graduate student Hannah Malan when she was selected to serve as a UC Global Food Initiative Fellow. I’ve followed her work with great interest ever since. I recently caught up with Hannah to learn more about how she’s applying her research on food literacy to enhance an ambitious project for World Food Day (and beyond). One of her goals is to help students understand the environmental impacts – the “foodprint” – of their dining choices.
Her work is part of a larger Healthy Campus Initiative at UCLA that cuts across disciplines and departments. The goal? To make UCLA the healthiest campus in America. Some of the work at UCLA is funded by UC’s Global Food Initiative, which seeks to address one of the most compelling issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a growing world population.
What graduate degree are you pursuing?
Hannah: I’m a doctoral student in Community Health Sciences and a Graduate Student Researcher with the EatWell pod of the Healthy Campus Initiative at UCLA. I have a strong interest in food literacy, and that’s been supported in my role as a GFI Fellow and ambassador. All of my interests have been linked through the GFI. It’s been very fun and rewarding.
Can you tell us a bit about the effort at UCLA?
Hannah: One of the really wonderful things about UCLA is that we have a strong infrastructure that’s been created by the Healthy Campus Initiative. We hold monthly meetings with campus stakeholders (students, faculty, administrators, staff) who are interested in food and are connected to different food programs and units on campus. This makes it easy to collaborate and increase the impact of our efforts.
For this project, I was able to work with UCLA professors Amy Rowat and Jennifer (Jenny) Jay to develop an infographic illustrating key messages about the environmental impacts of our food choices. Amy is a professor in the Integrative Biology and Physiology department, and Jenny is an environmental engineer, but we all share this passion for understanding food.
Being connected to staff as well as faculty also allowed me to quickly link to the dining halls and submit the infographic to them for dissemination. The infographic will be put on table tents in dining halls and other eateries across campus.
I’m also enrolled in the inaugural food studies colloquium co-taught by Allison Carruth and Michael Roberts. Michael is a professor at the Law School and the class has a wonderful cross-section of graduate students who are coming at the food system from different angles.
Through my fellowship last year with GFI, which involved doing focus groups with my colleague Tyler Watson, I learned a lot about my fellow students and how our generation navigates this complex and challenging food world…it was an integrating experience.
Editor’s Note: UCLA professor Amy Rowat is part of a team that produces the successful and highly engaging Science and Food blog. Allison Carruth is an associate professor whose interdisciplinary work is located across a range of departments, including the English Department and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. She currently serves as a co-PI of UCLA’s Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS). UCLA’s Law School is working at the nexus of food, law and policy; learn more by reading our Q&A with Michael Roberts, who serves as the executive director of UCLA’s cutting edge Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy. Discover how Hannah and this year’s GFI Fellows are helping to shape the future of food by reading this piece written by UC’s Alec Rosenberg.
It seems that more and more students are coming into food systems and sustainability work with varied backgrounds. What’s your educational background?
Hannah: I have an undergraduate degree in communication and professional writing from UCSB. I’ve always been interested in how people connect, share information, and learn – the social science part of it.
After receiving my undergraduate degree I worked in advertising and then in the sustainability and environmental sector at a non-profit, doing social media work. I chose to go into public health because I began seeing how the food system impacts public health…now and for future generations.
How is the GFI helping you make an impact?
Hannah: The GFI work and my graduate studies have enabled me to bring together all these different pieces…it just fits. My interests and studies have helped to infuse sustainability into the public health and nutrition conversation.
I have always cared about sustainability: supporting livable communities, reducing waste and pollution, etc. And I’ve really connected with food as a way to hook people into thinking about the environment.
Eating is consuming a resource in a very literal way. If you can make the connection between food and sustainability more accessible than thinking about something more esoteric, such as where your energy comes from when you turn on a light switch, I think we can have more of an impact on behavior. Sustainable food improves the outlook on overall sustainability efforts.
What’s planned at UCLA for Food Day?
Hannah: Our first main big event is Food Day on October 24, which we’ve turned into a whole week of activities and events at UCLA. We developed a campaign to encourage people to explore the impact of what they eat. The campaign was informed by the focus group study that Tyler and I conducted last year.
What were your findings?
Hannah: One theme in our findings relates to how students learn about food and what’s been effective. Students talked about visuals and informational signage (based on science!) in eateries as something they connect with – information they “can’t miss.” They like the idea of transparency and uncovering the complexities of food.
The content for the campaign really aims to bring to life the fascinating project Jennifer Jay is doing to analyze the environmental impacts of food at the ingredient level. Jenny is also an instructor for the freshman cluster class at UCLA, which is looking at sustainability through the lens of food. It’s partially funded by GFI.
My role has been creating the messaging, materials, and platforms for the campaign.
I chose a burrito to illustrate the nutrition and environmental impact analysis, because it’s a food item that’s familiar and relatively easy to prepare, or order in a restaurant.
The infographic explores the food/footprint of veggie and bean versus meat and cheese burritos. We highlight the overall calories, protein, and fiber as well as the carbon footprint of each ingredient.
What else is planned for Food Week?
Hannah: In addition to the infographic, we’re hosting a panel discussion with Jenny [Dr. Jay], a dietician and a cricket farmer, to delve more deeply into the issues, including alternate protein. We wanted to create a space for a critical conversation, where the audience can ask questions and there is a real exchange of information, rather than a one-way lecture.
The other GFI fellows are volunteering at the panel discussion and helping disseminate the infographic on campus and via social media.
You’ve mentioned some other plans at UCLA for 2017?
Hannah: In January UCLA dining services will be rolling out a ‘Flex Bar.’ It’s the protein flip concept…using animal products as seasoning and flavor adding, but not as the center of the plate. It’s about using the whole animal, providing hearty, delicious, flavorful and filling food.
Our dining director, Al Ferrone, is amazing. It’s not about telling students to reduce their animal protein consumption, but modeling a different way. They’ll be serving some of these recipes at our panel discussion to give attendees a sneak preview!
What excites you about playing a leadership role in UC’s Global Food Initiative?
Food is a good entry point into a lot of important conversations – from sustainability to culture to social justice. It’s tangible and personal – it makes sense to people. What’s exciting to me – and what is so powerful about GFI – is taking it a step further. It’s using food to bring people together to solve some of the challenges facing my generation.
Editor’s Note: Follow along with the UC Food Week activities at these hashtags: #FoodDay2016, #UCFoodForAll and #UCLALiveWell.
The UC Food Observer editorial staff are big fans of Professor Amy Rowat’s work. With the idea that it’s always a good time for pie, follow along with this video as Dr. Rowat uses science to help you create the perfect pie crust.