From Guatemala to Boston, Anth Alum Works for Nutrition, Food Security

In Guatemala, Tia Vieira worked as a Peace Corps Response volunteer with a NGO called MASFRIJOL as a nutrition education specialist.

UCSC Anthropology alum Tia Vieira (B.A., 2013) speaks about the role that anthropology plays in her work with food security in Guatemala and Boston. She is currently pursuing a Food Policy and Applied Nutrition MS at Tufts University.

 

vieira headshot

"Anthropology allowed me to not only daydream about traveling the world, but also gave me the opportunity to explore new ways of thinking about how the world at large is structured and how myself and others fit into it."

      -Tia Vieira     

What drew you to anthropology? 

I grew up in an isolated small town in Northern California and was always curious about what it would be like to travel to distant places and interact with people whose backgrounds were completely different than my own. Anthropology allowed me to not only daydream about traveling the world, but also gave me the opportunity to explore new ways of thinking about how the world at large is structured and how myself and others fit into it.

 

What was your work like in Guatemala? Could you say a little about what's going on in these photos? 

In Guatemala I was working as a Peace Corps Response volunteer with a NGO called MASFRIJOL that is actually a study based out of Michigan State's Legume Innovation Lab. Their work was bifocal because they divided up their efforts to work in both agricultural practices and nutritional interventions. My role was a nutrition educational specialist and I worked in remote indigenous villages in the Western Highlands of Guatemala (Quiché) teaching women about the nutritional importance of protein in the developmental stages of kids. I would give a short lesson and then teach them recipes that mixed grains with black beans, so they could see how affordable it was provide this to their families and help their kids ward off the effects of childhood stunting and malnutrition by reverting back to their traditional diets. Learn more about MASFRIJOL at: http://legumelab.msu.edu/associated_projects/masfrijol

 

What kinds of work do you do in Boston? What's a typical day/week/month like? 

I worked for the nonprofit called Project Bread that helps facilitate nutritional intervention programs in schools, policy changes and SNAP help among other things. I worked on the development team as their Volunteer Coordinator and helped organize 1,000 volunteers for their annual fundraiser, the Walk for Hunger, which raises all the funds for their 250+ statewide programs for the following year. Project Bread's website is at: http://www.projectbread.org/ 

 

     Vieira teaches about the nutritional importance of protein.

Can you share a moment in your work that has really changed the way you see the world and the work that you do? 

I'd say that I experienced some of the most poignant moments during my time in Guatemala. I'd go out with local health officials to conduct height and weight campaigns in small towns, and during those I saw so many small children who couldn't walk or talk at the age of 5 due to suffering from acute malnutrition. It was heartbreaking not only seeing the child, but also seeing the parent learn that their kid's situation was preventable. Lack of nutritional education in those parts has a horrid impact on individuals and on communities at large since they are unknowingly stunting individuals' physical ability to learn, but also stunting potential educational levels of communities and therefore stunting the overall economic state as well.

 

How did your degree in anthropology shape your experiences with food security in Guatemala and Boston?

Anthropology has helped me recognize that within the seemingly mundane act of eating there are deep declarations of cultural identity that manifest in dietary choices. Our diets are products of the complex webs all societies weave. Not only is food is evidence of how our cultural, political and environmental beliefs shape and dynamically influence health at multiple levels - food also embodies the story of who we are.

 

How do you see your degree in anthropology applying to your grad program in food policy and applied nutrition? Do you have plans in mind for after you complete your MS? If so, how do you see your degree in anthropology applying to these plans? 

How humans create and maintain their own environments and cultural norms can directly impact health. What and how we eat reflects how we connect with each other, how we connect with the environment and how we connect with our own physiology. Thanks to my degree in anthropology I am able to acknowledge and investigate everyday examples of disconnect between culturally traditional foods, the modern food industry and its connection to culture and health. Anthropology has and will continue to help me think of ways to leverage existing cultural practices to empower people to make informed decisions about their health. I hope to work in the design and implementation of international nutritional intervention programs upon graduating.

 

Why do you believe studying anthropology is important? 

Anthropology is extremely important and relevant in today's highly connected and globalized world. Studying anthropology opened up opportunities for me to travel and explore through the lens of food and nutrition while giving me the tools to navigate the complex social systems that have impact on people in their everyday lives. 

 


By Molly Segale.  Molly is the Department of Anthropology undergraduate program adviser.