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Honors Students Takes a Bite Out of Food Research

A cornerstone of the annual University of St. Thomas Research Symposium is the presentation by Honors Program students in the Contemporary Problems Seminar. They will present the fruits of their research, “Eating Away America” at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 13 in the Scanlan Room, Jerabeck Center, as part of the three-day Research Symposium.

The Contemporary Problems Seminar includes an interdisciplinary research project and is the final course of the Honors Program, held in the spring of the senior year. Students select a contemporary problem that interests them, and collaborate in researching the issue and preparing a presentation.

This year, the Honors project examines the processes and distribution of food to find out why it is unhealthy and consider alternatives to producing food.

Senior political science major Chris Dupree said in light of the obesity epidemic, the students wanted to find out why people are eating so unhealthy.

“It’s the structure of the food industry that pushes people to eat unhealthy,” Dupree said. “Our project is about analyzing how the food structure is set and looking at alternatives for producing our food.”

Laura Diaz, also a senior political science major, said it is exciting to see the project come to fruition as a collective work.

“It’s something we’ve been working hard on and we’re all passionate about the subject,” she said.

The students began working on the project in the fall, and they selected Dr. Jeremy Wilkins, associate professor of theology, as the faculty member for their project. He team-taught the Honors class when the students were freshmen.

“It is terrific to work with students who have matured through the Honors Program, and see what that’s done for them – to be able to think about the problem and have meaningful discussions,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said they benefitted most from the process of research.

“They’re adult learners now,” he said. “They’re responsible for their own learning and this is an opportunity to take responsibility for that.”

Each student researches part of the project related his or her own major, and the research is integrated into a larger presentation.

“Distributively, they cover a lot more ground than they could individually,” Wilkins said. “Each one brings pieces to the table that enrich everyone.”

Honors ”Eating Away America” Abstract:

“A society’s relationship with food provides insight into its structure and values.  The priorities of the American lifestyle have given rise to practices in agriculture, production, and dining that can lead to health complications.  Agriculture has shifted from family farms to factory-style food production, employing morally questionable practices to appeal to the wants of the modern consumer.  Federal budgets, policy, and programs favor the mass production of inexpensive food commodities at the urging of lobbyists for the corporations in control of the food supply, ignoring not only the advice of professional nutritionists, but also the nutritional guidelines of the government’s own agencies.  As food is integral to human life and culture, we focus on the imbalances in our relationship with food and on the food-related problems in public policy, production, and the market.”

Aguirre, Victoria; Barrera, Laura; Benny, Bensy; Diaz, Laura; Dupree,Christopher; Faruki, Adeel; Gala, Neil; Heysquierdo, Alexandria; Hudson, Esther; Lam, Duc; Mechler, Rebecca; Snodgrass, Alexandra; Tran, Rosemary, Eating Away America, Jeremy Wilkins.  Capstone.

Learn more about other student presentations in the Research Symposium.