Thursday, July 27, 2017

Enhancing nutrition through gastronomic research

New Delhi, INDIA—“To find effective interventions that can improve nutritional security for poor families in eastern India, researchers must first better understand what drives their food choices,” says Dr. Matty Demont, senior economist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and leader of the project, Drivers of Food Choice in eastern India (DFC).

To improve this understanding, IRRI recently held expert elicitation workshops on gastronomic systems research in Bhubaneswar, Odisha (18 July) and Kolkata, West Bengal (21 July). Participants included nutritionists, food technologists, home scientists, restaurateurs, and chefs. They captured the wide range of culinary diversity of food options available to households in low- and middle-income urban and rural communities in Odisha and West Bengal.

According to Dr. Arindam Samaddar, agricultural anthropologist based at the IRRI-India Office, bringing such a group together is key to elicit nutritional interventions that are practical and sensible for consumers and for restaurateurs.

DFC, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UK Aid and managed by the University of South Carolina, USA, aims to identify entry points for culturally acceptable and context-specific nutritional interventions. The project is using a gastronomic systems research framework, which is a new paradigm developed by IRRI.

“In this framework, socioeconomic status and culture are believed to dictate the various food consumption occasions, which then dictate the dishes that are served and consumed,” points out Dr. Rosa Paula Cuevas, IRRI grain quality specialist. “These dishes are made up of ingredients that affect cooking and eating quality and the nutritional content of the dishes. In the gastronomic system, there are three possible entry points for nutritional interventions: occasion, dish, and ingredient. The framework is also instrumental in understanding drivers of consumer choice for rice varieties and may help further refine varietal improvement targets in rice breeding.”

This framework shows promise in applicability beyond the DFC project. “I would love to follow the framework,” says Dr. Anindita Chakravarti, assistant professor at Maharani Kasiswari College and workshop participant.  “It will be extremely beneficial for the work that we do with poor Indian communities.”

These two workshops were the first of a series of activities of the DFC project, which runs through 2018. The next activities include consumer surveys and behavioral experiments that will use a novel food app being developed and piloted during the project.

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