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PROJECTS

My research investigates how food choices impact multiple domains of sustainability: nutrition and health outcomes, environmental sustainability, and affordability. Sometimes it's important to evaluate these domains independently, but some of the most exciting research I do looks at how these domains interact. 

Impacts of Pulse Consumption on Human Health, Diet Cost, and Environmental Sustainability

Pulses, which include dry peas, lentils, chickpeas, and dry beans, are an important component of healthy diet patterns recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are currently under consideration for re-publication in 2025. At the same time, pulses can be an important part of affordable and environmentally sustainability diet patterns in the US.

 

Our prior research demonstrates that pulses are nutrient dense, affordable, and low in environmental impact, which suggests that meeting dietary recommendations for pulses may also be an opportunity to meet other societal objectives related to improving access to affordable and environmentally sustainable foods.

The objectives of this project are to:

1) Compare the nutrient density of pulses to other protein foods;

2) Estimate the mean intake of pulses among population subgroups in a nationally representative sample; 

3) Evaluate the association between pulse intake and mortality, and;

4) Compare the overall diet quality, diet cost, and environmental impacts of varying levels of pulse intake.

This project is supported by the US Department of Agriculture's Pulse Crop Health Initiative.  

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Developing a Decision-Support Tool for Tribal Communities in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina

Indigenous communities in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina face substantial health disparities driven by unequal access to healthy food and lack of community ownership over food production. Indigenous food sovereignty initiatives have not addressed the unique needs of tribal communities in these areas, and this project aims to fill that gap.

We have partnered with Indigenous community organizations and tribal nations to develop a computational tool for our community partners to make decisions about transitioning toward sustainable food production on Indigenous lands. A unique tool will be developed for each tribal nation to reflect tribe-specific concerns and local environmental conditions. This tool will

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provide information on the number of people that can be fed a healthy diet from food produced on tribal lands, optimal sites for sustainable food production, amount of land and other agricultural resources needed, and the effects of future climate change scenarios.

The objectives of this project are to:

1) Develop geospatial models to identify suitable tribal lands for sustainable food production;

2) Develop biophysical models to estimate the number of people that can be fed a healthy diet from food grown on Indigenous lands; 

3) Develop user-friendly computer software that integrates the geospatial and biophysical models to create a decision-support tool for dissemination to community partners; and

4) Incorporate novel geospatial data into an educational course titled Pilot GIS Training for Native American Tribes in Virginia hosted by the Institute for Integrative Conservation.

This project uses mostly secondary, cross-sectional, publicly available geospatial and survey data collected from US government agencies, and will be supplemented with primary data collected from Indigenous communities using questionnaires and community conversations. To maximize impact, Indigenous communities will play critical roles at each stage of this project to create a circular flow of information that originates from the communities and ultimately feeds back into the communities.

This project is supported by The Jeffress Memorial Trust for Research Advancing Health Equity. 

Pork and protein food substitutions for improved diet quality, environmental sustainability, and affordability

There is growing urgency among policymakers and consumers to identify diet patterns that are healthy, environmentally sustainable, and affordable. Incorporating pork into existing diet patterns may provide an opportunity to meet these objectives simultaneously.

 

Pork is already one of the most popular protein foods in the US and contributes to culturally diverse food menus. Consuming pork instead of other protein foods can reduce diet costs while meeting all nutrient requirements, and can lower greenhouse gas emissions and water use.

 

However, there are several research gaps that need to be filled to comprehensively inform sustainable dietary policy and consumer behavior.

Smoked Ham

Few studies have evaluated how increasing pork consumption can have simultaneous benefits on diet quality, environmental sustainability, and affordability, and few studies have evaluated incremental substitutions of pork in place of a variety of other protein foods. This proposed research will fill these gaps by leveraging our demonstrated expertise in diet sustainability analyses and food substitution modeling.

The objectives of this project are to evaluate the impact of increased pork consumption on:

1) Diet quality;

2) Environmental sustainability; and

3) Affordability

This project is supported by the National Pork Board
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