Food Security, or Lack Thereof, with Dr. Graham
Nick Spinelli ‘17, Sustainability Intern for Academic Programs
This past September, the Environmental Studies and Sciences department welcomed a new professor; Dr. Franklin Graham, PhD. has dedicated his professional and academic career to studying food security issues in one of the most marginalized regions in the world, Western Africa. His passion for this subject began when he was a member of the Peace Corps from 1999-2001, where his time in Mauritania and West Africa opened his eyes and mind to “people’s different perceptions of food and their food security.” Upon his return to the United States, Dr. Graham began teaching at the community college level, while pursuing a PhD. in geography at West Virginia University, with the end goal of returning to the same region in Africa. During his PhD. program, Dr. Graham was approved for a grant from the National Science Foundation to look at food security issues amongst pastoral groups in northern Mali and Niger. “That sealed the deal. That was what really locked me into where I am in terms of what I do as an academic, what I teach, and the issues that concern me,” he says.
Graham’s most recent research was conducted in Western Sahara and Mauritania, where he studied food security and sustainable food production in this region. One of the main topics of his findings came from the way younger generations in these countries have lost touch with their traditional methods of food. In Western Sahara, Dr. Graham observed the country was falling into the model of modernization, and the people’s main priority was gaining their independence from Morocco. Because the country is modernizing and setting itself to have a presence in the global economy, “many people, especially the younger generations have lost an attachment to, and the knowledge of, what food previously existed in the countryside around them.”
Mauritania provided Dr. Graham with a different perspective, especially with how the communities adapted their lifestyles to suit the record setting rains. “These record rainfalls encouraged the people go out and have a relationship with the countryside again… It’s something magical compared to where we are in our society,” said Dr. Graham. From his observations, Dr. Graham noticed the Western Saharans and the Mauritanians were pursuing different, but equally satisfying paths; the Sahrawi were working towards increasing their presence in a globalized world and leaving behind their traditional food methods, while the Mauritanians were re-engaging with their culturally traditional foods and interactions with the environment.
Dr. Graham's experiences in different African regions throughout his life provided inspiration for eating sustainably as well as the message he wants to share with the Santa Clara community. Most importantly, he highlighted the importance of consuming a diverse diet, which has grown increasingly difficult in an American culture that is built on desiring meats and sugars. “These preferences have messed up the way we produce food in this country,” and Dr. Graham believes these new trends of GMO-based agriculture are not sustainable. “The reality is, the foods [they] eat in Africa are healthier and more sustainable than what we have in the United States.” In a society where one’s diet is based off of convenience and simplified meals, Dr. Graham encourages students, faculty, and staff to make an effort to break this cycle of over-reliance and comfort.
“It’s a personal choice to want to change your behavior in the foods you eat and the way they are prepared… It’s up to the individual to recognize the patterns when they fall into a rut.” One of the easiest changes Dr. Graham highlighted was the need for people to step out of America’s “time is money” mantra, and make a genuine effort to eat foods we specifically have produced. “There is a joy to cooking,” he said, “and it serves as a way to take time off, reflect, and prepare something delicious; and all the better if you get to enjoy this with someone else, and hopefully they will reciprocate it in the future.”