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Building A Sustainable Future

Building A Sustainable FutureA recent graduate wins recognition for her work on the problem of healthy food access in a big city, from Addis Ababa to New York City.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.15.09] Her interest in access to healthy food in a big city has led Mara Gittleman (A'09) to places far and wide. In January 2009, Gittleman traveled with Tufts'Institute for Global Leadership (IGL) to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, to study its changing urban food system . Her work has earned her major recognition in recent months, including the SustainUS Citizen Science award and selection as a Compton Mentor Fellow, which will provide $36,000 towards her proposal of improving food systems in a metropolis closer to home: New York City.

"When you say healthier lifestyles, it sounds like yoga practicing, organic produce. That isn't really what I mean. The fact that there is only junk food in certain areas and no produce is a huge public health issue. Food access is a huge public health issue and it would help to mitigate this."

According to Gittleman, who majored in American Studies and Environmental Studies, thousands of Ethiopians have been displaced from their homes, the result of a government trying to transform Addis Ababa into an orderly, modern capital from a rural, agricultural-based city. What it didn't take into consideration is the average income of the capital's residents.

"I wanted to go to Ethiopia to study urban agriculture to have a broader perspective of the role of food systems and a sense of how food systems function in the developed world and in the developing world," says Gittleman. "When the city wants to use agricultural land for development purposes, they give people a small amount of compensation and take the land. These are the people the government wants to go into condos, but they can't afford to. Many weren't part of the economic system, but were in self-sufficient communities, so the process is disenfranchising entire communities."

The residents of Addis Ababa lost not only their homes, but their access to healthy food in the form of fruits and vegetables-mainstays of a diet that  includes much mostly meat in vegetable-based sauces and dishes and vegetarian disehs twice a week on religious fasting days.

"Supporting and expanding urban agriculture, rather than letting it decline, would not only help ensure the survival of the residents in poverty but can help them thrive and achieve higher standards of living, benefiting the city as a whole," Gittleman explains in her report "Urban Expansion in Addis Ababa."

It was this report that won Gittleman the Citizen Science award, presented by Citizen Science of SustainUS, an organization that encourages youth to engage in policy discourse, promote scientific approaches, and raise awareness about sustainable development. As part of the award, Gittleman earned the opportunity to present her findings to the United Nation Commission on Sustainable Development on May 8.

Gittleman says the presentation "meant that my work had the potential to go somewhere, and eventually inform decision-making. That sort of recognition, especially in people under 25," says Gittleman, "is critical for fostering and supporting the next generation of scholars, policy-makers, and government officials."

Gittleman hopes her past experiences will help as she tackles the next project on her post-graduation agenda-working with PlaNYC to improve New York City residents' access to healthier food and exercise options. PlaNYC was set into motion in 2006 by  Mayor Michael Bloomberg and seeaks to create a design for the sustainability of New York City, outlining his vision for the city over the next twenty-five years.

"My goal is to be completely immersed in everything I've been studying," says Gittleman, "but actually on the ground-actually doing something in the real world with everyone who's been working on it."

Story by Kelsey Anderson (A'11).
Additional reporting was provided by Marjorie Howard.

 

 

 

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