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 Maureen McCoy, Associate Teaching Professor in the College Of Health Solutions and faculty advisor for the Pitchfork Pantry.
1) How did you get interested in food systems issues?
My interest began when I started working with the food pantry at ASU, the Pitchfork Pantry. I have been the advisor for the pantry for the past three and a half years or so, and that's where it really kind of took hold. I teach a community nutrition class in the College of Health Solutions, so food has always been in every area I worked during my time as a professional. When I got hands-on with the pantry, that's when [my interest in food systems] really started to solidify. I started to really see what the issues are within the system and how I can make a difference in that space.
2) Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation.
I don't have research as a part of my workload at ASU, but I am doing research, so I am still in the space. We have one project going on with Adelante Healthcare in West Phoenix: a Food Is Medicine type of study. We are recruiting one hundred patients with metabolic syndrome, and we are trying to see if just first reducing food insecurity can help improve their outcomes, but then also prioritizing healthy produce at each of the distributions that we do to see if that can make an additional outcome. Initially our primary focus is on food insecurity and then we bring people closer to where I'd like to see that nutrition-secure type status. Every Friday, we do a food distribution at Adelante with food from St. Mary's, and all of the participants are encouraged to come and get the food, as well as the entire community, and that is definitely a community that needs that food piece. Adelante is really good at connecting all of its members and patients to all the community resources. When we did our community board, the one thing that kept coming up was food. I feel like we are really filling that niche. I'm excited to see what those results are, so that will be a year-long study, and we'll see what happens.
The other piece that I do is help any student that comes to me with a project or research proposal in relation to food insecurity. We have a lot of stuff that we've done just within our Pitchfork Pantry. We had a Barrett thesis last year that was looking at more of the qualitative piece in relation to food insecurity and really getting out those student stories around food insecurity because a lot of those students feel like they're alone in that space. I think putting stories to that makes it much more powerful, but also connects everyone. We have a canvas shell that we invite all volunteers and anyone that is interested in the pantry to join. We have 1800 students in our Pitchfork Pantry canvas shell that we just started last fall. That in itself is an opportunity to really talk to our students and try to figure out what's going on. There are a lot of opportunities, I think, in the [canvas] space.
3) What's an innovation in the food systems world that you're excited about?
I was actually just talking to a colleague of mine in the College of Health Solutions; she is one of our research faculty and is developing a safe food coating that doubles the shelf life of any produce item. That would be incredible to not only help reduce food insecurity, but also minimize food waste of fruits and vegetables. It's all-natural, no artificial coating items in it and it's all nanoparticles - it's very scientific and exciting.
A recent innovation within the Pitchfork Pantry is the use of DoorDash to deliver to students within a 10-mile radius of our food pantry. It seems like this should have come up earlier, but it just started within the past year and has really helped those students without transportation. We also worked with StarShip last semester to deliver food from the pantry. I think utilizing technology and bots, and even drones, offers so many opportunities to get food to people that can't come to you or don't come because of the stigma associated with coming to a food pantry.
4) What's your favorite weeknight meal?
Lately, I have been making soup or stew with as many vegetables as possible on Sundays and then using that throughout the week. I have never been big into meal prep. I am a dietitian, but I don't always chop up everything on the weekends. But, to put it all into a soup that everyone in my family will eat has been my latest thing. This past weekend was chili, Super Bowl appropriate, but full of vegetables, very fibrous, and it just made me happy.