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 Robin DeWeese, Assistant Teaching Professor, College of Health Solutions.
1) How did you get interested in food systems issues?
I would say it was about the time I stopped taking hunger and food insecurity for granted. You grow up hearing, “Finish your food, there are starving kids in XYZ place.” I just took it for granted that, yeah, there are people out there who don't have enough food to eat and that's just the way it is. Then once I wasn’t a kid anymore and became involved in community issues, I actually thought about hunger, and how eating is the most basic thing we need to live. There shouldn’t be hunger or food insecurity. I started thinking then about how to solve the problem. Where is the breakdown in the food system? There's enough food for everybody. And I thought of all the simple solutions you think of when you’re in your 20s and believe everything has a simple solution. Then you realize it's a very complicated issue and there isn’t one solution for everybody.
2) Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation.
I've done research in urban environments where there are a lot of small corner stores, but there can also be a lack of grocery stores. In smaller stores there tends to be a high proportion of energy dense, nutrient poor foods - pop, chips, candy - and not necessarily fruits and vegetables, for example. Healthy Corner Store Initiatives try to get healthier foods into those stores to make them more readily available to nearby residents, who tend to be from lower income households. I was part of a study here in Phoenix where I interviewed corner store owners and employees about their thoughts on stocking more fruits and vegetables. Most of them said they would love to stock fresh produce, but it's difficult for distributors to bring fruits and vegetables to smaller stores. They just can’t handle the volume supermarkets can, so it can be expensive, especially if some of the produce goes to waste. Some cities have tried corner store networks where smaller delivery trucks deliver produce to the stores in the network. But the food waste issue still needs to be addressed. Researching how policies and programs can ensure households in low-income areas have access to healthy foods is important.
3) What’s an innovation in the food systems world that you’re excited about?
Cultured meat is a pretty interesting and exciting possibility. It would make meat production more sustainable and also keep from killing the poor animals. It seems like a better option for meat eaters than fake meat like Impossible and Beyond Meat since those aren’t actually meat and aren’t a healthier alternative. It will be interesting to see if cultured meat can be scaled up and become a major part of the food system, or if it becomes just a niche thing.
4) What’s your favorite weeknight meal?
A nice thick soup with lots of vegetables, some grains, maybe some chicken. Then good bread to go along with it. You just can't beat a good soup. It makes great leftovers, and it gets better with time. I mean, to a certain point.