Meet affiliated faculty Maria Cruz-Torres

In this series, we’re sitting down with the Swette Center affiliated faculty to catch up on food systems, innovation, and what makes a good meal. See the rest of the series on our Food Systems Profiles page.

Read on for an interview with Maria Cruz-Torres, Senior Global Futures Scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory; Associate Professor in the School of Transborder Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

How did you get interested in food systems issues?

I grew up in a coastal town on the tropical island of Puerto Rico. Both of my grandparents, maternal and paternal, lived off the land as farmers, so agriculture was an important part of my family. I saw firsthand the challenges of farming related to crops, natural disasters, drought, lack of workers, utilization of family labor, etc. As a result, I became very interested in food systems issues as I got older because it was deeply related to my personal upbringing. 

Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation. 

I’m currently writing a book about the participation of women in fisheries and the seafood industry in Mexico. I want to bring women out of the shadows and give them the visibility and recognition they deserve. There has been very little research in my field of anthropology about the contributions of women to fishery economies and seafood systems in Latin American coastal communities. I’m also working on a new research project that is looking at the contribution of small-scale fisheries to food security in coastal communities in Puerto Rico. I’m returning to a lot of communities where I grew up and studied while I was an undergraduate student. As I go back, I look at how their fisheries and food security has changed over time, as well as the role of women in those communities. 

What’s an innovation in the food systems world that you’re excited about? 

The development of cell phone applications that are connecting consumers to local producers is very exciting to me. The apps are incredibly useful for producers and consumers to communicate with each other and do business. Another innovation related to cell phones that I’m excited about is using them to conduct transactions in informal marketplaces. I particularly see these types of transactions among the women I work with in Mexico. They use social media to reach more customers and they can conduct transactions through the cell phone, which wasn’t possible when I first started doing my research about 15 years ago. This innovation is shaping livelihoods and the dynamics of the marketplace. 

What’s your go-to weeknight meal?

Since I have Caribbean and Puerto Rican roots, my go-to meal is arroz con pollo which is rice with chicken, tomato sauce, olive oil, garlic, and onion. This is what I ate every Sunday growing up, so I like to eat this to feel more connected with my family. It especially helps me feel better when I am homesick.