The following are reflections from Anna Waller, a grad student in Food Science and Human Nutrition, on her research project, which was partially funded by an ACES International Graduate Grant: “Dietary and nutritional assessment of rural Maasai families in Tanzania.” Anna's advisor is Dr. Juan Andrade.
For 10 days in May 2018, I had the absolute privilege to travel to Tanzania with my Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) colleague Marlon Ac, along with other university faculty, staff, and researchers working on other projects. While as a group we had many purposes and goals, the purpose of Marlon’s and my trip was to understand the current dietary state of Maasai people in the Arusha region. The Maasai are a nomadic pastoralist group of people in northern Tanzania and Kenya. Traditionally, their diet consisted of only three main components: meat, milk, and cow blood. Recently, however, factors such as climate change and globalization have caused them to incorporate more products like vegetables and grains into their diet. The objective of this trip, graciously funded by the ACES International Research Grant, was to conduct a 24-hour dietary recall survey of several Maasai people, spanning ages, genders, income levels, geographic location, and education levels. Our study aims to connect various socioeconomic factors to the dietary transition that is occurring, such that nutrition researchers, NGOs, and policymakers can have a deeper understanding of the drivers of this present nutritional shift. Our sample population was with coordinators, beneficiaries, and trainers of the Marketplace Literacy Program, a non-profit outreach program spearheaded by the University of Illinois’ Dr. Madhu Viswanathan.
Though my time was largely spent collecting quantitative data regarding diet, I simultaneously learned about Maasai culture and context with every conversation, interaction, and meal I shared. I danced and sang with groups of Maasai women in the fields surrounded by stunning mountain landscapes. I witnessed a village elder take his first selfie with my colleague, who upon seeing his face on the small screen, began touching his face in a unique moment of self-realization. I ate delicious Tanzanian food in an organic urban farm. I discussed nutritional interventions and programs with local community leaders and doctors. I saw giraffes and elephants in their most natural habitats. I discussed climate change with a local medicine man. I was comically asked for my hand in marriage by a woman for her bachelor son. I made lifelong friends during the many long trips to reach the remote, interior villages. All of these connections make up my wonderful experience in Tanzania this summer as a whole. My research trip, made possible by the ACES International Grant, was a beautiful reinforcement of the reasons why I chose to research global nutrition in Dr. Juan Andrade’s Global Nutrition lab in the FSHN department. We simply cannot effectively study nutrition science without first understanding the context and getting to know the people we wish to help. While we are still in the process of analyzing the data we collected, there are so many immediate fundamental take-away’s from this trip for my personal development as a researcher and as a global citizen. It was an honor to be able to represent FSHN, the College of ACES, and the university in this valuable endeavor.