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2002 Award for Faculty Outreach|
Food scientist fosters community health through the food system
By Celena E. Kusch
| In many ways, the food system is like an ecosystem of human consumption. It begins with the farm the seeds, the soil, the fertilizer, the pesticides and the labor and includes the transportation, distribution, processing and preparation needed to get food to the table and return waste to the land.|
The food system is affected by many factors consumers do not often associate with nutrition and food, including globalization, the loss of farmers and farmland, regional food system planning, trends in food consumption, household food insecurity, diet, lifestyle and health.
For Dr. Audrey Maretzki, professor of food science and nutrition, maintaining a connection with the local food system can also be a means to achieve a healthy community.
In the United States, we have a safe, abundant, convenient food supply, but our society is becoming deskilled. We are so accustomed to prepared foods and so busy with our daily lives, we do not have time to do the food preparation tasks our parents did. But in the process, we are depriving many of our children of valuable experiences that are connected to community and culture. Now kids dont even recognize a potato unless its a French fry, Maretzki noted.
This is the consequence of our efficiencies, she continued. We have solved our nations food availability problems, but you dont make those kinds of changes without having consequences. I am not advocating that all of our food should come from local sources as it used to a century ago (and still does in parts of the developing world), but we do need to understand what is grown near the place where we live. A sense of place ought to be part of our food system knowledge.
For years, Maretzkis colleagues have recognized her as a pioneer in food systems education.
Audrey is one of the few nutritionists who gave voice to the importance of food systems education at a time when nutrition education was focused almost exclusively on Dietary Guidelines and the reduction of dietary fat, cholesterol and sodium, Dr. Robert B. Beelman, professor of food science, observed.
Maretzki made the shift from nutrition to food systems in the mid-1980s when she moved from the University of Hawaii to Penn State.
Over the years, I had become increasingly aware that many of the nutrition education materials I was using were not related to the foods or the eating styles of the people I was teaching, Maretzki said. In Hawaii, I was often working with materials that did not take into account the locally and seasonally available foods of the islands. When I moved back to Pennsylvania, I realized that, even here, the nutrition education materials produced by the federal government made it a challenge to teach about foods grown and processed locally. The notion of locally diverse diets was being lost as we were building a global food system.
As a result, Maretzki and Cornell University colleague Dr. Carol L. Anderson developed the Northeast Network in Food, Health and Agriculture, with funding by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. That was in 1986.
There was not a lot of interest in emphasizing the local food system then, Maretzki recalled, but now there are many people thinking seriously about what is being produced locally, in season, in sustainable ways.
Working with Penn State Cooperative Extension, public television stations, government agencies and community organizations state-, nation- and worldwide, Maretzki has promoted community awareness of nutrition and the food system. Materials she developed, including the documentary Our Food, Our Future, which has been licensed for broadcast by more than 60 public television stations, have been used widely to increase understanding of local food systems among children, families, farmers, processors, consumers, taxpayers and educators in communities throughout the United States and beyond.
The principal result of Maretzkis work with food systems education, Beelman noted, has been to firmly establish Penn States leadership in the area of food systems outreach to the public and to train a cadre of young professionals in the field of food systems education.
In recognition of her 18 years of dedication to community nutrition education at Penn State, Maretzki has been selected as the recipient of the 2002 Penn State Award for Faculty Outreach.
According to Dr. James H. Ryan, vice president for Outreach and Cooperative Extension, Dr. Maretzki is widely recognized as an international leader in nutrition and food systems education, serving in both statewide and national organizations, and her dedication to sharing that knowledge with communities has made her a leader in University outreach, as well. It gives me great pleasure to recognize Dr. Maretzkis contributions to outreach scholarship by honoring her with the Faculty Outreach Award.
Maretzki explained that she was humbled by the award: This is the Universitys award that most resonates with my passion, which is to reach out to people around issues that are important to them.
Dr. Joan Thomson, associate professor of rural sociology, credited Maretzkis success in outreach scholarship to her ability to achieve two-way engagement among University and community partners, saying, Her work integrates research-based expertise with indigenous knowledge, enabling local people and communities to create their preferred futures. Audrey Maretzki truly represents Penn States commitment to engagement, both in the United States and internationally.
Not only an academic colleague, Thomson collaborated with Maretzki to produce Edible Connections, a community food system awareness project. As part of the program, Maretzki and Thomson produced a video and planning guide and facilitated an Edible Connections food communication forum in Philadelphia to bring together food producers, manufacturers, marketers, consumer and environmental advocates and media representatives from southeastern Pennsylvania. The Edible Connections materials, along with Our Food, Our Future, will be used in a new sustainable agriculture research and education project that will involve Cooperative Extension in New York and New Jersey.
In the Edible Connections program and in all of her outreach initiatives, Maretzki has worked to educate, empower and enable community members to develop and implement their own solutions to food and nutrition problems.
Nutrition education has often been limited to classrooms and settings in which nutritionists love to learn, but in general, low-income people do not find conducive to learning, commented Dr. Elizabeth Tuckermanty, program director of the Fund for Rural America and co-director of the Community Food Projects Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dr. Maretzki has a broad, comprehensive appreciation for how foods work in the culture of communities how food nourishes the soul, as well as the bodies of a people. Because she can look beyond the tight paradigm that has existed in nutrition circles, she has made a major contribution to the field of nutrition and to improving the nutrition of people at the community level.
As a result of this outlook, Maretzkis reputation is as strong for her outreach scholarship as it is for her research.
As a past president of the American Dietetic Association (an organization of almost 70,000 food and nutrition experts), I can note with confidence that Audreys name always rises to the surface when discussing scholars with a research and a practice interest in working with underprivileged populations. She is recognized for her accomplishments in taking her research and using it to solve meaningful social problems, said Dr. Sara C. Parks, director of the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Recreation Management in the College of Health and Human Development.
Addressing the problem of food insecurity is one of Maretzkis passions.
There is a whole line of thinking that talks about the human right to food. In the history of global rights legislation, we talk about this right as an entitlement in the cultural sense. In the U.S., people with limited incomes are entitled to food stamps and to receive benefits through other federal food programs like WIC, but there are still many people in the U.S. who cannot afford to buy the food they need. If you have money, a food stamp card or WIC [Women, Infants and Children program] vouchers you can get food from a local market. If not, people generally go to their local food bank. Neither of these solutions to the problem of food insecurity is ideal, Maretzki explained.
I dont foresee a time when we wont need food banks, she continued. Pennsylvania does more than almost any other state to support the quality of food available through food banks. State funds are appropriated annually for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products to supplement the shelf-stable canned and processed foods that are typically donated to food banks. But in a country like the U.S., we ought to have better solutions to food insecurity, solutions that are linked to the food system and locally considered.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of Maretzkis locally produced solutions is the Kenya NutriBusiness Project, an outreach program designed to address the interrelated problems of childhood malnutrition and rural poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In recognition of her work in Kenya and with the Interinstitutional Consortium for Indigenous Knowledge at Penn State, Maretzki received the 1998 W. LaMarr Kopp Faculty International Achievement Award.
Under Maretzkis leadership, a team of scholars from Penn State, Tuskegee University and the University of Nairobi trained local women to start and maintain a business that can also improve nutritional resources for families throughout the area. Two cooperatives, involving nearly 2,500 women, were established to manufacture and market locally produced, culturally appropriate, nutritious and affordable food mixes for toddlers, while the women shareholders gain new, socially suitable opportunities for self-employment and income generation.
Today, the initial NutriBusiness cooperatives in Kenya are now self-sustaining, and Maretzkis NutriBusiness model is being considered for replication in other developing countries, as well as in the Lower Mississippi Delta. Currently, Maretzki is collaborating with Dr. Koushik Seetharaman, assistant professor of food science, and Dr. James W. Dunn, professor of agricultural economics, and representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the University of Namibia and Womens Action for Development to secure funding for a Namibian NutriBusiness program.
As those who know her attest, one of Maretzkis greatest strengths lies in bringing people together in partnership. Her efforts have helped to establish several important state and regional networks that support health and nutrition education for low-income and other medically underserved groups in Pennsylvania and beyond.
Notably, Maretzki has served as the initiator and principal investigator for several award-winning and federally supported projects. Funding for her many outreach initiatives has come from the Keystone 21 Project, National Cancer Institute, Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, Pennsylvania Agricultural Experiment Station, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Ryan noted, Dr. Maretzkis collaborative vision should serve as a model for all of us who seek effective ways to achieve outreach goals.
Among the most innovative of the collaborative networks Maretzki developed are the Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Network (PA NEN) and the Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Program (PA NEP).
Established in 1996, the PA NEN provides a forum for exchange and collaboration to support nutrition education efforts among public agencies, private organizations and other groups who work with Pennsylvanias low-income residents. One of the PA NENs major activities is social marketing. Its campaigns have focused on encouraging low-income households to use farmers market nutrition coupons provided by the Women, Infants and Children program and on controlling child obesity.
The Nutrition Education Network and the PA NEP have made a tremendous difference in the amount of nutrition education being done in many communities, Maretzki said. We have been able to bring together local groups who are concerned with nutrition education for low-income populations and enable them to collectively access federal funds for conducting their programs.
The PA NEP, which is managed by Penn State under contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, now provides nearly $15 million for nutrition and food education programs each year. Maretzki helped to secure federal food stamp funding for the state of Pennsylvania in 1998, when she wrote the Pennsylvania Food Stamp Nutrition Education Plan. The federal Food Stamp Program matches state and local public dollars to enable local groups to provide nutrition education programs for food-stamp eligible households.
Cooperative Extension, as well as many other nonprofit agencies involved in emergency food distribution, school feeding, health care and human services actually implement the nutrition education activities, Beelman noted, but to many of those delivering the services, it is clear that Pennsylvania would not have this federally funded nutrition education program if Audrey had not been determined to make it happen.
Most rural programs operate through the county Cooperative Extension offices where coordination between the state Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the PA NEP provides nutrition education services to seniors and others eligible to receive food stamp benefits.
According to Tuckermanty, the success of the program says as much about Maretzki as about the participating community groups. The Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Program is a good example of Dr. Maretzkis abilities to network and turn new ideas into strong collaborations and truly unique outreach for Penn State, she said.
Her visions have brought food resources and nutrition information to a diverse group of Pennsylvanias disadvantaged citizens. Her networking and collaborative work have brought resources to numerous nonprofit organizations clientele across the state a win-win for these community organizations and for Penn State, Tuckermanty added.
Community education provider Patrick F.E. Temple-West, director of nutrition development services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, remarked that we who serve the food security and nutrition education needs of Philadelphias low-income population are especially grateful to Audrey for providing the leadership that has resulted in the creation of both a Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Network and a Pennsylvania Food Stamp Nutrition Education Plan.
In 2001, PA NEP programs reached almost 2 million Pennsylvanians. Temple-West reported that eight PA NEP projects in Philadelphia will bring hundreds of thousands of federal dollars for nutrition education into the city in fiscal year 2002. The PA NEP is an outstanding example of Penn States outreach commitment and capacity, he added.
In 1992, Maretzki secured funding from the National Cancer Institute to involve Cooperative Extension agents and local volunteers in creating community-based cancer coalitions that address the high incidences of cancer in Pennsylvania and New York. She has served as principal investigator for both the Northern Appalachia Leadership Initiative on Cancer and now the Appalachian Cancer Network, an eight-state consortium of research institutions, including Penn State, the University of Kentuckys Markey Cancer Center and West Virginia University, all of which are linked with local cancer coalitions.
These networks enhance awareness and use of science-based cancer information in these medically underserved communities by forging new partnerships between health professionals within and outside of these communities and the local groups to whom communities already turn for education and support. The goal is to overcome barriers, such as poverty or lack of access to medical care, that prevent some people in Appalachia from participating in early detection programs, getting adequate treatment and participating in clinical trials.
In all of these networks, Maretzki has achieved success by forging invaluable connections between University researchers and educational resources, public and private funding streams and local sources of knowledge and service within communities themselves.
Commenting on her commitment to outreach, Maretzki said, I see my role as creative networking. You need patience to bring people and organizations together and help them realize they can do more together than they can do alone. Its a matter of believing youre eventually going to accomplish more when you bring people together.
I think universities have the credibility needed to bring new knowledge to communities, she added. And much of that knowledge is useful, but communities also know a lot that academics should not discount. The issue is how we can link up with communities to ask the questions that are important to them. You have to be willing to take what you know, put it all on the table and let communities select the things they can use.
Beelman summarized the impact of Maretzkis work, stating, Audrey Maretzkis Penn State career clearly demonstrates that a faculty member with a focus on communities can reach out in many different ways to address social, environmental, civic and economic issues.