Anthropology Concentration in ‘Food, Environment and Sustainability’ Explores Food Through a New Lens
Colin Thor West, associate professor in the department of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, became interested in the lives and challenges of rural farmers when he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo, West Africa, from 1994 to 1996.
Today, West focuses his research on food insecurity issues in Burkina Faso. West and a graduate student traveled to Burkina Faso this past summer to interview the indigenous Mossi people about their changing environment.
“I work in a part of Africa where people often can’t grow enough food because of production and access issues, and a lot of these people are very poor,” said West. “I also touch on issues of local and global climate change and drought.”
The Department of Anthropology launched a concentration a year ago in Food, Environment and Sustainability, dovetailing with the beginning of UNC’s two-year academic theme, Food for All: Local and Global Perspectives. West will teach an upper-level undergraduate course that mirrors the concentration’s name in Spring 2017. Both undergraduate and graduate courses are offered in the concentration, including Anthropological Perspectives on Food and Culture, Archaeology of Food and Global Health. Another new course, Intro to Food Studies: From Science to Society, will be cross-listed in anthropology, nutrition and American studies.
West has also conducted research on commercial ranchers and farmers in the southwestern United States and Yup’ik salmon fishers in western Alaska.
Amanda Thompson, biological anthropologist and associate professor of anthropology at UNC, studies how people’s social and physical environments shape their health across their lifespan. During Summer 2015, she taught a study abroad course, Ecology of Nutrition and Health in the Galápagos. She returned to the Galápagos this past summer for a research project.
“We’re hoping to understand how simultaneous exposure to high-fat diets with limited fresh produce and poor water quality contribute to the high levels of obesity and chronic disease seen on the islands,” said Thompson.
She has also been a part of the China Health and Nutrition Survey since 2011. Thompson and other researchers are examining the impact of exposure to environmental pathogens and increasingly high-fat, inactive lifestyles on the development of inflammation and obesity in Chinese children, adolescents and young adults.
Thompson said the new concentration is a good fit for anthropology, because it highlights the diverse work that many faculty have been doing on these topics for years.
“As anthropologists, we try to see the whole picture,” she said. “The concentration brings together faculty members from all subfields within the discipline — sociocultural, biological and archaeological — to answer common questions from unique perspectives, creating a fertile ground for new research and training for students.”
January 23, 2023