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Foodies get a taste of the future

Workshop looks at keeping food of future healthy for us, the land, our cultures.
November 14, 2016

ASU professor Joan McGregor leads Dinner 2040, where lawmakers, academics and chefs discuss production over gourmet meals

Chefs, professors and everyday foodies were busy using their taste buds to delineate the finer notes of hibiscus, passion fruit and orange blossom. Their minds, however, were focused on whether they’d have access to such ingredients in the future.

They gathered for Dinner 2040, a gourmet-meal-tasting-turned-panel-discussion led by ASU philosophy professor Joan McGregor, at an organic farm in Phoenix. The event put university experts together with chefs, activists, legislators and others to think about the future of food in Maricopa County.

“We’re here today to learn from each other, and to share ideas and expertise in order to produce a vision of what the food system should look like in 25 years,” McGregor said.

The current system is “an environmental and humanitarian disaster,” said Maya Dailey, owner and operator of Maya’s Farm, railing against pesticides, GMOs, sub-par wages and hostile working conditions.

Diners took their places Sunday morning at tables set between mature mesquite trees at Maya's Farm, where they were met with bowls of a 10-spice nut mixture, provided by the same chef who created the tangy flower punch, Danielle Leoni of Jamaican-inspired eatery The Breadfruit and Rum Bar.

From there, they were served a variety of equitably produced epicurean delights: salads — one grain-based, one cucumber-based — from chef Chris Bianco of downtown Phoenix’s renowned Pizzeria Bianco; breads from Tempe’s Essence Bakery; and desserts from local pastry chef Tracy Dempsey and Fairytale Brownies’ Eileen Spitalny.

The food led to discussions.

At one table, Sam Pillsbury of Pillsbury Wine Company lamented the degradation of society’s ability to appreciate food that’s good for them and good for the environment: “People don’t know what fresh tastes like anymore,” he said. “They have to re-learn what to expect to taste.”

A few tables over, Arizona state Rep. Ken Clark talked about the need for policy that supports sustainable food practices.

Next to his table, ASU associate professor of Italian Juliann Vitullo and her group envisioned a future education system that incorporates food production into the curriculum and features a garden in every schoolyard.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Adrienne Udarbe, executive director of the Arizona-based non-profit Pinnacle Prevention, which works to grow healthy families and communities through a more conscious food system, said Dinner 2040 is “the first step in a dialogue” between ASU and community partners that has the potential to make real change, calling the unique gathering a valuable opportunity to “hear various perspectives from a diversity of players.”

And that’s the whole idea — McGregor purposely chose to employ a charrette-style gathering, in which various stakeholders join their knowledge to tackle an issue. In the case of Dinner 2040, they’re focusing on five key values:

  • Ensuring that our food system reflects historical, cultural and place-based best practices.
  • Designing a food system that considers the current strengths and challenges in the region’s availability of natural resources and protects those resources for future generations.
  • Ensuring our food system supports creating healthy, balanced meals and dishes that draw on culinary traditions, creativity and experimentation.
  • Designing a food system that ensures justice for the environment, animals, workers and consumers.
  • Making sure individuals and communities have a voice in their food system, control over where their food comes from and access to the types of food they want.

“It’s very important to understand what we can do,” Bianco said. “And what we can do is come together to discuss and try to figure things out.”

McGregor said there is much to be done, but that she has high hopes.

“Communities need to get involved in this to make a difference,” she said, “but I think some people in the local food movement are already on it, encouraging people to buy locally and using locally sourced foods. Just getting people thinking about it can lead to more positive action.”

McGregor hopes Dinner 2040 events will help to develop a template for “future of food” workshops and dinners in communities across North America. Though there is no date set for the next workshop, interested parties can keep track of the initiative’s progress here.

Top photo: Chef Danielle Leoni created a dish of nuts, dates and raisins from Bob McClendon's farm in Phoenix, spices from around the world, and pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds from Maya's Farm in Phoenix on Sunday. Photo by Anya Magnuson/ASU Now

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Study suggests reducing disease spread could increase gender equality

Report suggests vaccinations, mosquito control may improve gender equality.
ASU researcher's report showing link published in journal Nature Human Behavior.
November 14, 2016

ASU researcher helps hit on new reason to focus on public health efforts, including vaccinations and controlling mosquitoes

An ASU researcher has helped hit on a new reason to fight infectious diseases: Reducing their prevalence can be linked to an increase in gender equality.

Arizona State University psychology professor Michael Varnum, along with his partner Igor Grossmann from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, have produced a study that suggests that “vaccinations, free health care, public sanitation and water treatment might increase equality between the sexes around the globe,” according to a release from the journal Nature Human Behavior, which published their work Monday.

The authors, the release said, made sure to note that their analysis doesn’t prove causality. But it shows that over several decades “when levels of infectious disease are low, people are more likely to adopt slower life history strategies. For women, this might mean delaying reproduction in favor of pursuing education and careers,” the study states.

Varnum discusses his research in a Q&A with ASU Now.

Question: Can you describe your research?

Answer: We tried to find out why societies may change in terms of levels of gender equality. We tested the idea that these kinds of shifts are due to changes in the physical and social environment. We found that the strongest predictor of levels of gender equality over time was the prevalence of infectious disease.

Q: This certainly sounds interesting, connecting infectious diseases to gender equality. Is it groundbreaking? Or does it confirm something we previously suspected? 

A: Although previous work had shown that variations across countries in gender equality are linked to level of disease, this project was the first to test the relationship over time. So although there was some reason to suspect such links, this was the first time anyone tested them as a way to understand cultural change.

Q: What led you to examine this link?

A: We'd previously published a study looking at what factors were responsible for shifts in individualism in the U.S., where we also looked at a number of ecological predictors. We felt that this kind of framework could provide new insight into understanding changes in gender equality, which has also been especially marked over the past several decades.

Q: Did you find what you expected to find? Or was it surprising?

A: What we found was pretty consistent with expectations; however, we were somewhat surprised by just how strong the relationship was.

Q: What does this finding mean? Do you think it will affect policy or create any changes in how nations, charities or NGOs operate? What might change because of this research?

A: I think this work has a number of rather interesting implications. From an academic standpoint, I think it offers a new vantage point to understand gender inequality.

For a more applied standpoint, I think this work has the fairly radical implication that efforts aimed at improving public health (be it through sanitation, providing clean water, vaccinations or mosquito control) might be a surprisingly effective means of fostering gender equality.

So I think this work highlights how such efforts have social benefits beyond their immediate impacts on people's health.

Q: What’s next?

A: We are currently using an ecological framework to try to understand the causes of other kinds of cultural shifts, including fluctuations in aggression and violent crime.

We are also open to collaborating with NGOs, government agencies and other stakeholders who might find our research useful in their own efforts to enhance equality or to understand how and why cultures change.