Friday, December 12, 2008

Stakeholders: Groups 17-21

This week, the stakeholders groups finally began interviews after waiting on feedback and specific instructions for which individuals to speak to and what questions all groups should ask. As winter break quickly approached, many groups decided to forego in-person interviews, conducting them over the phone. Some group members, though, did meet with their interviewees at their offices or work sites.

Elizabeth Borges conducted an interview with Mary Gay of the Trenton Rescue Mission after being referred to her by Jeff Zeiger from the Trenton Chamber of Commerce. They spoke at length about how food availability affects the Rescue Mission, and how the absence of well-stocked grocery stores in the central Trenton area presents a significant problem for the population of the city. Mary also recommended that Elizabeth speak with Phyllis Stoolmacher at Mercer Street Friends to gain a more direct understanding of how food availability affects the urban poor, so Elizabeth will likely conduct a third interview next week.

Devon Damiano met with Elyse Pivnick at Isles at the organization’s Trenton offices, located right in the middle of Trenton and surrounded by several community gardens that Isles supports. Elyse and Devon spoke about how Isles works with the community to encourage healthy eating and to make healthy food available to the local population. One of the biggest problems affecting health in the city, Elyse told Devon, is that the economic situation in Trenton leaves commercial grocers unwilling to enter the market, both because of the actual poverty in the city and because of stereotypes about the community. After the interview, Elyse pointed Devon to the gardens in the surrounding area, and she went to see them for herself. Isles helps start these gardens by providing basic supplies like seeds and fencing, but neighborhoods are expected to tend to the gardens on themselves, taking ownership of their new food source while reaping the benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Elyse speaks to Devon in Isles' office
on Wood Street, in dow
ntown Trenton.

Devon checks out Isles' children's garden
on nearby Academy Street.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Residents Speak: Groups 9, 10, 11 and 12

This past week the residents speak groups have found themselves in somewhat of a panic, scrambling to make sure they have acquired sufficient interviews before departing for winter vacation. The recent emergence of clearer guidelines and specifications for what their final projects must include have left the students frustrated, wishing they had known the requirements at the onset of the project. Two points of contention have arisen specifically. First, the students must participate in interviews in their specified cities or face missing out on receiving credit for a section of the assignment. Second, even students who did participate in CBLI organized interviews will have to conduct further interviews due to the insufficient amount of interviews with residents they were able to attain.

The first point has been expressed by the resident speak groups through emails and discussed in group meetings. They wish that they could have been made aware of the requirement that each student must participate in interviews earlier in the semester, especially because they were given the impression that it was unnecessary for all students to conduct the field work (and literally impossible because the CBLI organized field trips set limits on the number of representatives from each group). The students claim that they would have made more of an effort to visit their specified city earlier on if they had know that such participation was mandatory. Because many of them are preparing to leave campus and travel home for winter vacations, it will be hard for them to organize interview trips to their respective cities, especially for those students who do not live close to Princeton or their respective cities.

The second point is more specific to the New Brunswick and Newark group members, who even after going on their CBLI field trips will have to make another trip to their cities because they were unable to secure enough interviews. The New Brunswick group was sent to a food pantry where only heads of local food providing agencies were present and there were no residents to be found or interviewed. While the interviews they conducted with the agency heads will add to their final project, they will still need to make time to secure interviews with actual New Brunswick residents so to meet the requirements for their papers. The Newark group encountered a similar problem in which they were dropped off at a location to conduct fieldwork where no residents were present. They were able switch locations, but because of delays earlier in the day, only secured four interviews. They do not believe that four interviews will be sufficient to base their entire research project on. They have tentatively scheduled an independent trip into Newark for this Friday in hopes of conducting more research.

Ultimately, while inconvenient and frustrating, the students in the residents speak group need more interviews in order to complete their final projects. While it will be more demanding and require them to make more of an effort, it is by no means an impossible feat. Hopefully, in the next few days the groups will be able coordinate further research. If actual fieldwork proves to be unfeasible due to the last minute nature of the endeavor, referencing previous interviews and findings or conducting phone interviews have been proposed as alternatives for those group members who have not yet had the chance to personally investigate resident opinions about food.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Groups 5-8: Food Availability

As the project starts coming to an end, the groups have been busy making their final trips and compiling their data. Last Friday two members of group 7, Stephanie Fleurantin and Luwam Berhane, travelled to Newark, where they visited a Pathmark Supermarket and a small Health Food Store. Like the other groups, they used the Thrifty Food Plan Survey to look at the variety and prices of the food.
Stephanie Fleurantin and Luwan Berhane checking for items on the Thrify Food Plan in the Health Food Store

We were very well received at the Health Food Store - the owner even provided us with literature about the various herbs she sells, as well as with a free sample of a “wheatgrass shot.” While the researchers filled out their survey I got the chance to ask her about her store and the role it plays in the community. Interestingly, she told me that her store is very popular in the bustling neighborhood it is located in, and that the residents of Newark have a strong interest in health food, vegetarian diets and herbal remedies. Furthermore, she explained that many churches pool their money together to ensure that those affiliated with them can have access to health food. For this reason, many people with financial problems are able to purchase the food and herbal supplements that she sells.

The juice bar in the Health Food Store

Nevertheless, the researchers were unsure as to what extent this kind of store has an impact on food availability in Trenton. They were also concerned that it would be difficult to compare their findings in the Health Food Store with those in a larger supermarket, such as the Pathmark that they visited, because the kinds of food that the two sell are radically different. Furthermore, although the store offered a healthy variety of food, a lot of the food that is on the Thrifty Food Plan Survey was not present (especially meat). Therefore, although it would be possible to have a healthy diet shopping at the Health Food Store, it faire rather poorly on the survey. This brings into question the reliability of the Thrifty Food Plan in measuring food availability.

The Pathmark that was visited had a much bigger selection of food, and the researchers found most of the food that is on the Thrifty Food Plan survey. Overall the prices were much lower than at the Health Food Store. However, the researchers did not feel that the two stores can be compared and felt that visiting average corner stores would have been more useful. They may in fact go back to Newark on their own over winter break in order to conduct further research.

The groups that travelled to New Brunswick and to Trenton have been busy compiling their data, and there have been no updates from the Camden group. Soon the groups will be wrapping up their work, and we’ll be able to see how their findings compare to each other. Interestingly, all the groups have voiced the same concern that the stores they visited will not give them enough data to accurately assess the problem of food availability in their respective cities.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Infrastructure Part I&II (Groups 3&4)

This week was the last week I followed the members of Infrastructure groups 3 & 4. So, because the project is coming to an end, I asked a few of the members to reflect on their experiences.

Charlotte Rajasingh (Group 4) stated:

"I never thought about how much actually went into the relationship between health care and food. It is way, way too easy to say well everyone should exercise more and eat healthier food and then they will be healthier people without looking at the ways for that to take place. If you live in a neighborhood with high crime or broken sidewalks, there is no gym near you (or the one near you is expensive), exercise is a far more demanding request. Everyone definitely doesn't have equal access to certain institutions which might encourage or enable "healthy" behavior. Since I was in charge of hospitals and fitness related elements, I don't think I'm at liberty to say that much about food right now. However, from just those two things, it is apparent that regions in cities are provided with differing resources for health maintenance and that health outcomes could clearly be linked to this."

Aaron Abelson (Group 3) stated:

"Learning about the capabilities of the GIS software (the computer program we use to make the maps) has been fascinating and learning the basics of using the software has been enlightening. Using the software, the possibilities are endless in terms of the data that you can use to analyze various elements of infrastructure in the cities and in terms of the population information available to learn about the demographics. I specifically have learned about the racial makeup of Newark and how that relates to the proximity of infrastructure elements like banks and social services. There have definitely been some potential problems that have emerged. However, we have been hindered by our inexperience and lack of time and cannot explore the presence of infrastructure in NJ cities as much as would be possible with more knowledge of the software and more time to compare data. I believe we will come up with some interesting conclusions, but it will remain to be seen how it fits in with the research and conclusions of other groups."

Qiong Qiu (Group 3) stated:

"As a freshman, I know very little about New Jersey. I am glad that this project gave me the opportunity to learn about the cities around Princeton. The mapping project taught me how use the GIS program to compile raw data onto a single map for analysis. Although I am not directly studying food availability, I believe that mapping infrastructures contribute to a more complete look at the daily lives of people in Trenton. I was also excited to learn that most of the social services organizations and churches are located near or right on bus lines, which provides easy access for people without cars. However, because of these existing infrastructures, finding a accessible location for new whole foods or grocery stories may be difficult. It is also unfortunate that the only sizable park is located on the edge of Trenton, which shows that there are few places for exercising for people living in the downtown area. Thus, this week I will add the location of fitness centers on to my map for a more complete view of the opportunities for exercising in Trenton."

Cornelia Hall (Group 4) stated:

"From my experience working on this project, I'd say that what we are analyzing is definitely an important contribution to the overall CBLI project. Infrastructural elements like food sources are of course critical to a health project focusing on food access. Also, cross-comparisons across all four cities will allow us to compare our results to data on health statuses in those cities and look for a correlation. I don't think it's a perfect analysis, in that we still can't "map" which of our elements are frequented most by residents, or how often they travel farther away to access other resources--critical issues for understanding our project. But these components will appear in other groups' contributions to the project, so I look forward to seeing it all come together."

Also of interest, a few more maps. Whereas last time the map showed elements like transportation, schools, parks, etc., these maps illustrate the actual "food and health" structures. These maps are considered "works in progress" by their creator, Alexandra Satty (Group 4). She mapped grocery stores in relation Hispanic populations in New Brunswick and fruit and vegetable stands in relation to black populations in Newark:

It was a pleasure working with both of the groups. Personally, I had never known much about maps, or map making before having worked with them and having gone to the GIS Library. Doing this project also opened my eyes to the importance of mapping factors other than population, topography, climate, etc. Using maps to illustrate sociological factors is actually very fascinating.

I would like to thank all the members of Infrastructure groups 3&4 for their contribution to this project. Please look forward to reading their final project, which will include an analysis of their map findings. Thank you so much for your time.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Group 1 (Food as a Public Health Issue) & Group 2 (Health in New Jersey) (5th post)

This is the last week of class in the Fall Semester, and students will have until early January to compile their research projects at their own time. I have asked them to reflect on what they have learned from their projects and what they have found interesting so far before they leave for winter break. Let’s hear what they said.

GROUP 1 - Food as a Public Health Issue

Carine Davila (History of food availability in the US)
The project has definitely been useful in expanding our horizons on the importance of food. While food is commonly thought of as important on an individual level, I feel less has been done on the level of the community, or at least less is known. This project has been a chance to explore that latter realm, and I think we will find that it does have an important impact on the level of the community and beyond. While this is not my first time doing a research project, it is my first time doing a CBLI project. I do feel that our group is making an important contribution by introducing food as a public health issue, but I think perhaps some of the other travel groups may feel a closer connection to the community through the project than ours. Nevertheless, it is rewarding to think that our entire class's work will come together to be an important contribution.

Aba Osseo-Asare (Organic food availability)
As I've been researching organic activism and contemporary food movements, it has been interesting to note how the original advocates of natural foods have become concerned about the commodification of organic food. Although the movement certainly aimed to broaden the visibility and consumer base of organic foods, some activists now worry that standards for natural foods have been lowered due to the number of industries seeking to make a profit by marketing the organic label. Now that I have collected background information on the organic movement as a whole, I am seeking to explore differentials in access across racial and class lines.

Carol Shih (History of the USDA food pyramid, food safety regulations, and changing government assertions about what is healthy)
I am finding out about food and food systems for this project, so I am learning something new about what we put in our bodies daily, and something so important for survival. So far, I've found that the subject of food can be controversial, making standards and rules difficult to set.

Laruen Bartholomew (History and contemporary politics of school lunch programs)
It is not my first time doing a research project. It is my first time doing a CBLI project. My interpretation, comparison, and analysis skills have probably been refined. Other than reading about various moves by schools to make school lunch programs healthier, I did not have previous knowledge of the topic.

Group 2 - Health in New Jersey

Alexandra Douwes (Childhood vaccination, childhood asthma, and childhood injuries)
This is not my first time doing a research project; however, it is my first time doing a CBLI project, as well as a project based on statistical analysis. I have never worked with statistics programs before, so this project has taught me a lot about collecting and analyzing data, which could be very useful for future research projects. I did not have any previous knowledge of the topic I am studying, so I found all the information I collected especially interesting. Especially finding actual racial disparities in the children's health data was fascinating, as it confirmed everything we have learned in class.

Rosalynd Upton (Gestational Diabetes and Infant Mortality)
This was my first time doing a research project of this nature. I have definitely picked up some invaluable research skills along the way. Particularly, I have found that using databases our school's library provides is excellent for research projects like CBLI because it provides free, scholarly articles that are pertinent to whatever I am searching for. As for my topic itself, it is well-known that diabetes occurs more prevalently among minorities than whites. It was nice to have this foreknowledge of what my research results would be before writing the paper so I could delve into more finer-tuned issues.

Sara Peters (Lung cancer, cirrhosis and AIDS)
Due to the lack of evidence in states and national data pertaining to cirrhosis, I have decided to turn my attention to AIDS and lung cancer. Based on what I have found so far, I believe that there will be overwhelming evidence that supports the hypothesis that minorities have quite a health disparity in these sectors of health care. However, I am unsure as to how I will relate this data to lifestyle choices--causation versus association.

Yuna Sakuma (Unintentional injuries and resulting deaths)
I have done research projects in the past, but never a CBLI project. The previous projects have mostly been historical, and none have ever been so relevant to our time period and our neighborhood. I think that the idea of CBLI is very cool and I hope to take more CBLI courses in the future. I definitely learned some things throughout the project. It's interesting to see that unintentional injuries have racial disparities. I'm still in the process of finding causes for the disparity, but I think looking at regions puts in an interesting angle.

It is so exciting to see that both groups are making good progress in their research and enjoying the process along the way. I really look forward to the final products of their work.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

City Residents Speak about Food: Groups 9, 10, 11 and 12

This past week, after returning from Thanksgiving vacation, the Residents Speak groups continued their work where they last left off. The Trenton and Camden groups have been in communication about planning meetings in which they could discuss how they should go about tackling their final group project. The new Newark group is still waiting on their field trip to conduct research, which is scheduled for tomorrow morning. The New Brunswick group went to their city yesterday and gathered some very enlightening information. I was lucky enough to accompany them on their travels.

Hesham El Halaby and Alyse Wheelock were the two members of the New Brunswick group that conducted the interviews. A van picked us up at Princeton at 8:45 Wednesday morning and transported us to a food pantry just on the edge of New Brunswick. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication between the CBLI organizers and the food pantry, and no residents were present for Hesham or Alyse to interview. They were not able to gain any insight about actual residents’ views on food, but instead they were provided with a great opportunity to interview leaders of local agencies in the New Brunswick area responsible for providing food to those “in need”. The agencies represented a vast range: churches, soup kitchens for the homeless, drug rehabilitation centers and programs that provided groceries to individual families on a weekly basis.

They were able to speak with a total of nine agency leaders, voice recording each interview. The questions they had prepared for the residents had to be slightly tailored to adjust to the circumstances. They conducted the interviews in the busy storeroom of the food pantry, where representatives of local agencies and volunteers were constantly bustling around, sorting food to send out to the different programs. What the agency leaders had to say was quite interesting.

One trend I noticed while listening in was how hard times were for families, now, more than ever, because of the recent financial crisis. The agency representatives frequently cited a larger strain on their capacity to provide for the surge of need in the area. The chief concern for many of the providers was not related to unhealthy eating habits or lack of access to healthy food, but a harsher reality of a lack of access to food period. The residents they provided for represented a constituency of the population who can barely afford to feed themselves or their families.

Ultimately, the trip for the New Brunswick group was not what they had expected, but yielded insight into what local New Brunswick agencies are doing to provide for those in poverty or near the poverty line.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Food Availability: Groups 5-8

This week the groups who traveled to Trenton and to New Brunswick have been busy compiling and organizing their data. This Friday, group 7 will travel to Newark and will be visiting several stores in different neighborhoods in Newark, including a Pathmark that was set up as a joint venture with a community development program. Group 6 will be traveling to Camden on Sunday. By next week, all the group will have traveled and it will be fascinating to see how their findings compare. Since the kinds of stores visited has definitely affected the research of both the Trenton and New Brunswick groups it will be interesting to see if this is also an issue during the trips to Camden and Newark.

Here is a short video of an interview that I conducted with Anthony Loring during the trip to Trenton. He discusses his overall impressions from the study and the stores that were visited.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Infrastructure Part I & II (Groups 3 & 4)

This week, as a result of Thanksgiving break, it was difficult for the groups to keep in touch and work, collaboratively, on their project. However, some members of the groups found time to work on some aspects privately. Portions of the projects that are still being worked on include mapping the areas, traveling to cities, and coming together to work on the collaborative group project.

Updates on individual work:

One student chose to visit Trenton on their own free time and took a few pictures of vacant lots, corner stores, and bus stops. You can find pictures of each below:

Another student completed their map of Trenton. If you look closely, you will be able to see churches, banks, schools, social service centers, parks, etc.

Lastly, one of the students listed some things that she has learned so far while doing this project:

She noticed that the availability of parks may help (or hinder) health. For example, if a population does not have many parks (an area in which one can participate in recreational activities, or exercise, they could become obese. She also saw a connection between road congestion (having great amounts of car and bus traffic) and health. She hypothesizes that the pollution given off by these automobiles could make people less likely to venture outside, and thus less likely to get the proper amount if exercise.

To look forward to: Each group is in the process of making final plans to travel to the cities and take pictures of the on-the-ground realities. They will incorporate these pictures into their final group projects which will consist of one 5-7 page paper that summarizes and combines the findings of the short (individual) papers. Stay tuned to hear about their findings next week!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Group 1 (Food as a Public Health Issue) & Group 2 (Health in New Jersey) (4th post)

As we move into the 4th week of this blog, members of Groups 1 and 2 are beginning to get busier and busier with their project. Students are using a wide array of resources for their research. Some looked up books from the university library to gather information, while others rely on the wide variety of resources that the internet offers, such as online databases of political and historical journals articles, electronic archives of newspapers and magazines, and websites and blogs of food and health-related organizations (e.g. United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization). Online databases such as the Princeton Data and Statistical Services are of particular interest to Group 2, since they need to perform some statistical analysis of the health status in New Jersey.

While they are all working hard, the progress of the project varies from members to members. Some find their work very smooth. “I have found one journal that proves quite useful - the “FoodReview” journal published by the Food and Rural Economics Division of the US Department of Agriculture. Haven't faced any difficulties so far, but it's still early in the game.” said Carine Davila, who works on History of food availability in the US. Similarly, Carol Shih, who is working on the history of the USDA food pyramid and food safety, happily reports that “So far, it has been smooth sailing.”

Other members are less fortunate and have to overcome different kinds of obstacles in their research. One common problem that members from Group 1 are facing is the overwhelming amount of data. Sarimer Sanchez for example, who investigates international hunger programs, finds it difficult to find an appropriate way to draw comparisons between the many different types of hunger programs within a country and between different countries. Similarly, Lauren Bartholomew, who works on the history and contemporary politics of school lunch programs, finds it tricky to narrow down articles that pertain to her specific area of interest.

Members from Group 2 on the other hand face a different kind of challenge – learning to use statistical analysis in their research. “I have no background whatsoever in statistical analysis and definitely underestimated the amount of work that will go into this project,” said Alexandra Douwes, who works on childhood vaccination, childhood asthma, and childhood injuries. “The main difficulty that many people in our group face is analyzing the rough data and converting the data into readable charts and graphs. This requires prior knowledge and special programs [of statistics], such as STATA, and is therefore very time consuming. Luckily our preceptor has been very helpful and is always willing to sit down with me and help me make sense of all the data I acquired.”

Another challenge that Group 2 faces is the collection of appropriate data, and organization of the large amount of information. “I find it really difficult to find information beyond the state level (e.g. for counties in the state), or even beyond the national level,” said Yuna Sakuma, who works on unintentional injuries. “I think the difficulty I'm going to come across next is organizing the
data, since unintentional injuries covers a lot.” Another student Rosalynd Upton has similar opinions, “My topic is very specific (gestational diabetes and infant mortality), so I found it difficult to gather data that dealt specifically with what I was looking for. As for the rest of my project, I expect to find it a bit hard to use all the data I have found and write a paper about it. I do not want my paper to just be a bunch of quotes, but I also don't want it to not have enough statistical info to back up my argument.”

Despite these challenges, members from both groups seem to enjoy the process of their research.

“I think it would be interesting to include an anthropological or sociological perspective about the meaning of food, the importance of food choice, and the cultural aspects of eating,” – Aba Osseo-Asare

“ Even though it has proven to be a lot of work, I think that the skills I will acquire in the process will be very useful in the future.” – Alexandra Douwes

Best of luck to both groups for the rest of their work!

City Residents Speak about Food: Groups 9, 10, 11 and 12

This past week, in part due to the Thanksgiving Holiday, the Residents Speak groups had less on their plate in regards to actual research to conduct or field trips to take part in. It provided a nice transitional period in which the groups could begin to review their collected research and start formulating plans for their final projects. Or, in the case of the New Brunswick and Newark groups, they were given extra time to gather their thoughts in preparation for the field trips to their respective cities on December 3rd and 5th.

The Trenton Residents Speaks group made an effort to meet last week so that Astrid Raisseau and Ariel Lawrence could debrief the rest of the group on how the interviews and fieldwork had gone. Together the girls managed to interview a total of nine residents throughout their travels to a 7Eleven, the Crisis Ministry and the Farmer’s Market. While they felt as though they had managed to collect a substantial amount of data in their interviews, they expressed doubt over whether or not they had collected enough to build an entire final product for the CBLI project. Furthermore, they were frustrated by the amount of information or prep they were given before leaving for Trenton. They wished they could have known more specifics about what sorts of venues they would be traveling to so to better tailor their interview questions to the situation ahead of time. The group discussed the prospect of organizing an independent trip into Trenton themselves so to be able to collect more data.

I asked Astrid and Ariel to fill out a short questionnaire about their experiences. Parts of it are reproduced below:

Where the venues you traveled to places you would want to shop for your own food?
“No, I would prefer actual supermarkets.”
“The Farmer’s Market.”

Were the residents open to the interviews? Did they seem to be honest? Were they resentful?
“No not everyone was willing to be interviewed, some residents claimed they have received/participated in a similar interview. I feel that some participants, once they understood the purpose of the study (that we would be focusing on health), shaped their answers to what they thought we would want to hear, especially one woman in particular. There was an old woman, who was suffering from diabetes and other complications who regretted many of her food choices. However, she admitted that she was still eating poorly and maintaining destructive health behavior.”
“Most were open to being interviewed. Sometimes I felt as if some people were giving answers they thought they should give – example, ‘my dinner had some crabs, some protein, veggies etc.’”

Was there a general trend in responses indicating a certain deficiency or universal complaint about food in the area?
“ The cost of food too high and not enough big-chain and low cost supermarkets nearby.”
“A lot of people claimed that there was no quality supermarket in downtown Trenton, although a couple of individuals said otherwise. A lot of individuals complained about costs.”

Was the culture of those you interviewed a frequent topic of discussion in regards to how it affects their opinions of food and their eating habits?
“A few people admitted that because they were black they had certain opinions about what they deemed good food (fried chicken, potatoes, etc.)"

To close for this weeks post, I thought it would be interesting to include a brief response I wrote about a talk given by Mark Winne earlier this semester on “Closing the Food Gap”. In light of the fact that many of the field trips make stops at food pantries I feel as though this discussion is quite provocative and might be a topic the groups might try to explore further down the road in their research endeavors.

I was impressed when Mark Winne in his lecture “Closing the Food Gap” relayed the statistic that since 1980 the number of food banks in Hartford has leaped from four to four hundred. The last thing I expected to hear after such a remarkable achievement was criticism of the food banking efforts to provide for those in destitute poverty. However, in the eyes of Mark Winne, such immense growth demonstrated by the food banks is discouraging. The rational behind his opinion stems from the notion that the striking growth in the food banks merely promotes the continuation of a system inadequately equipped to truly fight poverty. Food banks, while they make an immediate difference to those in need of food, in the long run, side step the real issues and fail to actually combat poverty from its source. The sheer scale of hunger and poverty necessitates other more lastly and meaningful solutions. Solutions that prevent people from falling into poverty in the first rather than rescuing them from poverty after it has already struck are what Mr. Winne is advocating for through his disapproval of food banking institutions. Essentially, changes in public policy such as a raise in the “living wage’, availability of health insurance and job training programs should be the emphasis of policy efforts. However, so long as the current food bank system continues, serving a crutch to support the currently unstable approach to fighting poverty, it will be difficult to rally efforts to push for other changes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Groups 5-8: Food Availability

This Friday Group 7 travelled to New Brunswick to collect data; visiting a corner store, two supermarkets which wish to remain anonymous, and a vegetarian co-op. They used a modified version of the Thrifty Food Plan to look variety, prices, store hours, delivery services and whether stores accept Food Stamps. One member also concentrated on looking at specialty food and vitamin sections, such as for infants and diabetic. Of the four stores it was at the cornerstores where they found the most items from the Thrifty Food Plan to be missing.

Although they collected enough data to begin their analysis, one of the members is concerned that the stores that they visited are not representative enough of where the residents of New Brunswick shop, and therefore won't give them a clear idea of what kind of food is being consumed. Although the supermarkets offered a good selection of food, the members felt that it would be more useful to look at more corner stores and to see at how accessible the supermarkets are in comparision to the corner stores, to really determine what kind of foods residents can buy.

They hope that when their data is compared to the research that the infrastructure groups are doing they will have more clarity as to how to address the problem of food availability in New Brunswick.

In the meantime, group 5 has been analyzing the data that was collected in Trenton. There have been no updates from the Camden group, and group 8 has a trip planned to Newark on December 5th; once these two groups have collected their data it will be interesting to compare their experiences on the field with those of groups 5 and 7.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Infrastructure Part I & II (Groups 3 & 4)

This week, the two groups continued working on mapping out the infrastructure elements in New Jersey. After break, each group plans to make their site visits to take pictures of the infrastructure elements they will be researching in their project. This week, I also interviewed members from each group about their progress so far and their expectations for the rest of the semester. Here are a few excerpts from the interviews:

Interview #1—Wyliena Guan (Group 3)

Q: What has been the most challenging part of the project so far?

A: It has been using the program, the technology, to get this project completed. To use this program on my own, finding the info (where to get it on the internet)... having to refind, re-set the data, trying to use the program on my computer… has been a little bit of a pain. Besides that, it’s not so bad. I really like it.

Q: What city will you be traveling to, and what do you hope to find there?

A: I will be traveling to New Brunswick, or Newark, with my entire group…. (When I go to the city) we will be looking for basic infrastructure elements. What we have been trying to map out using the GIS programs.

Q: Why are the infrastructure elements you are researching important?

A: When you try to implement any project, plan, etc, it all goes back to the infrastructure. If a plan isn’t working, you resort back to (analyze) the infrastructure. For example (as in one of our readings) when trying to provide health care to Puerto Rican women, a big problem was having convenient (health care institution) hours for the women, providing a place where they could go for childcare… little things like that. Even though you don’t think of it as that important, and think of them as pretty minor, it is those sorts of details that can make or break a program…any endeavor that you are going to go after.

Interview #2—Alexandra Satty (Group 4)

Q: What has been the most challenging part of the project so far?

A: Utilizing the mapping program that the GIS librarian showed us has been pretty difficult. The programs look like they can do some incredible things, but it’s very complicated to figure out. In addition, trying to figure out how to combine all the data sets we are finding in the most useful way seems like it will be rather challenging.

Q: Do you think anything that you have learned thus far in “the Politics of Race and Health in America” has changed the way you think about elements pertaining to this project? If so, what and how?

A: I think the idea of race being a social construct is really interesting to consider when looking at census data, and specifically maps based on this data pertaining to racial distributions. When looking at a map, race seems very black-and-white (or, in the case of the maps we looked at today, red-and-yellow) – red areas have a high percentage of blacks, while yellow areas have a low percentage of blacks. However, after considering the idea of race as a social construct, you start to think about how all this data is not as clear cut as it sometimes seems, which was something I found rather interesting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Group 1 (Food as a Public Health Issue) & Group 2 (Health in New Jersey) (3rd post)

While members of Groups 1 and 2 are busy starting their research work this week, I thought it would be interesting to ask them how they got interested in their chosen topics. It turned out that they all have different and very interesting reasons, ranging from personal career interests to inspirations from recent new events. Having understood the rationales of their research topics, I became even more excited in expecting what they will find at the end of the project!

Let's hear what they said...

Group 1 - Food as a Public Health Issue

History of food availability in the US (Carine Davila)
“I've decided to write about the history of food availability and its correlation with aggregate health outcomes (e.g. longevity). I became interested in the topic because longevity in the last century has increased due to advances in medical technology and other public health measures. This project has prompted me to consider whether food availability may have actually played a role as well. I'm eager to learn more about the impact of food availability. I think it will be interesting to see exactly how I can measure food availability over time, and whether or not studies have been done along these lines. Furthermore, I think the question may be a tricky one, because food availability does not necessarily correlate with consumption choices made by individuals, so it may not lead to a correlation with health outcomes. Nevertheless, since we wish to look at aggregate health outcomes, this may be the only level to see any kind of impact.”

History and contemporary politics of school lunch programs (Lauren Bartholomew)
“I specifically chose to do research on school lunch programs, because I remember hearing on the news debates over the healthiness of food provided by school lunch programs. I was interested in the topic but did not have time to pursue researching it. Therefore, I figured that this [CBLI project] would be a good way to learn more about the topic while fulfilling our class's paper requirement.”

History of the USDA food pyramid, food safety regulations, and changing government assertions about what is healthy (Carol Shih)
“This topic is interesting because of the recent food scandals coming out of China - it has really shaken up the consumers internationally. As citizens and consumers, we need to pay attention to what is put into our food, how it is produced, and who is buying these products. Because many people are either unconcerned with or just not knowledgeable about what our food consists, or even what's healthy, the government should play a role in determining what is acceptable and what isn't.”

Group 2 – Health in New Jersey

Lung cancer, cirrhosis and AIDS (Sara Peters)
“I chose lung cancer, cirrhosis and AIDS because I was motivated to find how illnesses relate to choice-based behaviors in different races. There is definitely a positive correlation between acquiring these diseases and performing what many people see as “morally questionable behaviors”. Although the jury is out in the question of whether these behaviors do relate to negative lifestyle/health choices, I became curious to see which race would have a higher prevalence. It is unknown to us that among people who engage in these behaviors, which racial group would have a higher association with lung cancer, cirrhosis, and AIDS.”

Diabetes, obesity, and heart disease (Emily Hankin)
“I am very interested in childhood obesity and the diseases that are often associated with it. Especially in the last year, the various initiatives across the country to combat obesity have met with enthusiasm from some [people], and skepticism/disbelief from others. I am interested in whether these initiatives actually have any effect, or whether reducing obesity is something that needs to be addressed within the family, rather than imposed by the government.”

Infant mortality and maternal health (Rosalynd Upton)
“I am researching infant mortality and gestational diabetes. I am interested in this topic because I am thinking about becoming a perinatologist, which is a doctor who deals with high risk pregnancies. I thought this topic would be a good way for me to start thinking about women's and infant's health.”

Childhood vaccination, childhood asthma, and childhood injuries (Alexandra Douwes)
“I have always been very interested in pediatrics. I shadowed a pediatric surgeon for a day in high school once, and love to work with children. Moreover, I believe that in order to solve the many health disparities and health issues currently troubling the U.S, we will have to focus on children's health first, as they will grow up to set the health norms and precedent for future generations.”

Unintentional injuries and resulting deaths (Yuna Sakuma)
“I ended up doing unintentional injuries because it was the only one that had not been chosen out of the websites with data that could easily be used for our project. However, I am gladI am doing it now. I am much more aware that there are significant death rates for unintentionalinjuries, and from my perspective, they are often overlooked. It is not something you would think of as causing in a racial disparity, but from my present knowledge, it does. I am looking forward to compiling the data and finding out the specifics about this cause of death.”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stakeholders: Groups 17-21

This week, the stakeholders groups received feedback on their action plans and continued to tailor their questions to fit CHE's requirements. Each group was given a list of "core questions" based on questions submitted in action plans in order to standardize the interview process among stakeholders in all five areas. Groups will still be able to ask questions in addition to core questions based on what they find most interesting.

There is a natural pause as groups wait for final approval on their full question lists from CBLI and CHE, but group members are still actively discussing logistics and how to divide up reporting on interviews. Groups can either have each individual member report on a single interview, or each group member can report on a particular question across all interviews. The groups were also officially assigned to interview either specific people or a specific category of stakeholder, based on feedback from CBLI and CHE.

A quick glance at some groups and their assigned interviews:

Group 17 (Trenton): Mayor, United Way Director
Group 18 (Camden): Osborn Family Health Center Director Marge Cofsky, Representative from Camden County Chamber of Commerce
Group 19 (Newark): Mayor Corey Booker, Executive Director of Newark Department of Health and Human Services Dwight Peavy
Group 20 (New Brunswick): Hospital administrator, food pantry administrator
Group 21 (New Jersey): Commissioner of NJ Department of Health Heather Howard, Representative of New Jersey Hospital Association

Groups must finalize their interview lists (which includes identifying specific individuals to interview within some of the broader categories listed above) by Monday, and interviews will begin soon after that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

City Residents Speak about Food: Groups 9, 10, 11 and 12

This week the project really started to come together for the residents speak groups. The Trenton and Camden groups each sent a few representatives to their respective cities to carry out interviews last Friday. The Newark and New Brunswick groups continued preparations for their travel days, which have been pushed back until after Thanksgiving, December 3rd and 5th.

From the Camden group, only one member, Monique McDermonth, was able to go out and participate in the fieldwork due to the other group members constricting class schedules on the day of the trip. She reports that she was able to get some great footage. In the weeks to come hopefully the group will get together to review and analyze the data collected.

The Trenton group still has yet report back on how the fieldwork interviews went. However, I am sure they were able to collect a substantial amount of useful information and will soon be processing the interviews into transcripts for analysis.

The Newark and New Brunswick groups solidified their questionnaires for the upcoming interviews through meetings and email exchanges. The New Brunswick group made a point to outline what main aspects of residents' experiences they hope to hone in on throughout their interviews: culture, spaces (in which residents eat), the meaning of food, background information and the expense of food. These groups also verified which group members would definitively be able to travel to their cities to conduct the interviews in the coming weeks. As of now they are just waiting for the date of their the future fieldwork to arrive.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Groups 5-8 Food Availability.

This Friday two members of group 5 traveled to Trenton, where they looked at food availability in four stores, including a 7-11 in Lawrenceville, two big supermarkets in Trenton, and a farmer’s market right outside of Trenton. Their group is is also using the Thrifty Food Plan to survey food, focusing mostly on the variety of food present, prices, and expiration dates, and whether or not stores accept food stamps

The students, Carolyn Smith-Lu and Anthony Loring were surprised by the great variety and quality of food in the two big supermarkets - Supreme FoodMarket and the Food Bazaar – and noted the extensive section of ethnic foods in both stores. Although in Supreme FoodMarket we were not warmly received, the manager of Food Bazaar met with Carolyn and Anthony, and emphasized the importance of taking into account the ethnic composition of the population that the store was marketing to. He also clarified that the reason for which the supermarkets seemed rather empty had to do with the fact that most of the shoppers tend to come at the very beginning of the month and late at night. The Farmer’s Market also offered a variety of affordable, fresh and healthy food.

At the 7-11, not surprisingly, there were a few Thrifty Food Plan items missing from the store, and most of the products did not have price labels, or were incorrectly labeled. The store employees were more than willing to ring up each item for them, and interestingly, one of the workers approached me to comment on the importance. of checking for expiration dates and correct prices at least once a month. However, it is not clear how useful the data from this store will be seeing that it is located in Lawrenceville and not in Trenton.

Their findings led Carolyn and Anthony to wonder if it would have been more helpful to look at the food offered in corner stores in residential neighborhoods as well as problems related to accessibility to the supermarkets. Given the data collected, the quality of the food sold in these stores is not a problem in Trenton. Carolyn also commented that there have been many proposals to modify the thrifty food plan, and that the study that groups 5-8 are doing may show that this indeed needs to be done.

During the upcoming weeks, the other three groups will visit their respective cities. All of them are using the same measure - the Thrifty Food Plan. The group doing research in Camden will also be taking advertisements, coupons and discounts into account. After having heard Catholic Health East’s CEO speak about the problem of diabetes in immigrant population, they will also be looking at the availability of healthy ethnic food. One aspect of their research that differs from the other groups' is that they will also be looking at what kind of restaurants are found within a three block walking distance of supermarkets.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Infrastructure Part I & II (Groups 3 & 4)

This week, the two infrastructure groups met to discuss their plans and strategies for tackling their infrastructure goals when they travel to the cities. Both groups took time out to sit down and redefine exactly what it was they were going to be looking for. For example, what exactly constitutes a “vacant lot?”

The students also reflected on what Professor Harris-Lacewell mentioned in lecture last week. She challenged us to think of models while conducting our research. One of the groups I met with asked each other to think about what food meant to each of them, personally, by the next time they meet. This will aid them in better-connecting with the project. I will hopefully have the results of the combined answers next time I post.

Lastly, I traveled with Wyliena Guan, a member of the Infrastructure Part I group (group 3) to visit with the GIS librarian to learn about mapping out infrastructure. While there, he asked us some thought-provoking questions. Some of which were: “How are you defining your infrastructure elements?” “What does transportation include? What does it mean to you?” “What do you mean by “residential areas”? Does this include urban, rural, etc.?”

These questions caused us to stop and think about what it is exactly we are studying, and how we define what those things mean to us, and to other people. It also caused me to think about how I personally saw these things as well. In general, however, he gave us a very informative lesson on map-making, using the software, searching the databases and finding infrastructure elements. Map-making is a lot more difficult than I first imagined. So, I wish the groups the best of luck with their final projects!

Monday, November 17, 2008

GROUP 2 - Health in New Jersey (2nd post)

After some considerations, Group 2 has decided to modify their research approach to their project more feasible. Instead of collecting data for their research, members will make use of existing statistics in various databases.

Here is a sample of the questions they are going to answer through their research:
1. What is the incidence of this condition in New Jersey and in the United States as a whole?
2. Are there racial, gender, SES, and regional inequalities in the incidence of this condition in the United States?
3. What can be said about racial, gender, SES, and regional inequalities in the incidence of this disease within the state of New Jersey?
4. What can you say about the cost and effectiveness of treating this condition vs. the cost and effectiveness of preventing this condition? What tradeoffs would a shift from treatment to prevention pose to New Jersey lawmakers?

Their findings will help to map the overall status of health and racial disparities in New Jersey.

GROUP 1 - Food as a Public Health Issue (2nd post)

All members have submitted a plan of their research by this week, which covers a wide range of interesting topics:

1. Review of international questions of food and health, as well as international hunger programs (Sarimer S. )
2. Review of contemporary activism around local food movements and/or organic food availability, with a focus especially on organic food (Aba O.)
3. History of the USDA food pyramid, food safety regulations, and changing government assertions about what is healthy (Carol S.)
4. History and contemporary politics of school lunch programs (Lauren B.)

Their findings will shed light on why food is a public health issue.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Interviews with Stakeholders: Groups 17-21

These groups are tasked with speaking to key leaders in the different cities under study. Each group was required to submit a plan of action by Thursday, so they met throughout the early part of the week to discuss what stakeholders they wished to interview and what questions they should ask, as no clear specifications had been given by CHE.

Working independently, each group arrived at interviewing more or less at the same types of stakeholders, which included mayors, doctors and nurses, owners of grocery stores and municipal health officials. The basic strategy that most group members indicated they want to employ is to ask the same basic core questions to all stakeholders that they interview, with a few questions then tailored directly to the individual.

Most groups mainly focused on what questions they wanted to ask and selecting general categories of stakeholders, but a few have already come up with specific names of individuals for at least a few of their stakeholder categories and also spent time fine-tuning questions to avoid biased or leading questions.

Samples of questions include:

1. What are the primary issues relating to food availability and healthcare?
2. What are the health outcomes and effects you see? Who are the most vulnerable populations?
3. What are the governmental policies to address the issue of food availability? What are the non-profit responses to this problem?
4. What is the economic impact of malnutrition on the community and the healthcare system?
5. What kind of food is served in your hospital?
6. Does your store take any initiative to sell healthy food to your customers?

The groups were required to submit their action plans yesterday, and some are meeting again over the weekend to discuss feedback and decide how to best move forward with interviews.