August 6, 2015

An Interdisciplinary Approach: The Need for Social Scientists in the Fight against Food Insecurity

Next Generation Delegation 2015 Commentary Series 

By Tara Mittelberg, BS candidate in biological anthropology at Northwestern University and 2015 Next Generation Delegate
I study biological anthropology because to me, it is the epitome of an interdisciplinary approach to food security. On the one hand, I measure precise biological markers of health, and use them to evaluate nutritional deficits in individuals and communities. On the other hand, as an anthropologist, I receive training in cultural sensitivity, language, and ethnographic methods – essential skills for working in international communities. This combination of data-driven health science and opportunity for human connection renders biological anthropology an important – albeit underrated - discipline for effectively eradicating malnutrition.
As a 2015 Next Generation Delegate, I had the privilege of meeting other individuals with interdisciplinary talents, such as Dr. Carrie La Jeunesse. Carrie is a registered veterinarian, humanitarian, and thanatologist, meaning she specializes in counseling and educating those who are impacted by tragic death. This expertise took her to West Africa, where she counseled Ebola victims and their family members. When in Liberia, she noticed that the communities that had avoided Ebola were those that had implemented comprehensive, community-led development projects that included educational initiatives, health programs, and agricultural reform. Carrie’s personal experiences prove that integration can make a real difference in poverty alleviation.
As an advocate for these interdisciplinary approaches to food security, I was pleased that discussion of the concept was central to The Chicago Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2015. Symposium speakers underlined that we need: individuals to develop innovative interdisciplinary solutions; private, public, non-profit, and academic players to interact; and engineers, lawyers, and doctors to join the fight for food security. While all of this is true, I would like to add one group of experts to this list: social scientists, whose expertise can speak to the human side of food insecurity.
At its deepest root, combatting hunger is about improving the lives of real people. At the symposium, some experts referred to the need for “behavioral change,” and “community-devised development projects,” but did not engage these topics in depth. This is where the voices of social scientists can help. In order for the innovations of doctors, engineers, and plant pathologists to reach real people, we need political scientists to evaluate structural problems. We need economists to create models of development. And we need anthropologists to ensure that we understand the communities in which we’re working. In particular, we need social scientists with interdisciplinary backgrounds who understand both the community in need, and the corporation, government agency, or scientific innovation that is meant to help. And through this true interdisciplinary cooperation, I am confident that we can bring food security to the people who need it most.

Read previous posts in the Next Generation Delegation 2015 Commentary Series:


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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