Project: Research project

Project Details


Throughout human history, every society has created its own knowledge and understandings of food and health as a matter of survival. These understandings remain widely distributed in and across the communities and cultures of our ever-globalizing world. But professional scientists tend to dismiss ancestral or community forms of knowledge as unscientific. Seldom do scientific professionals seek opportunities to seriously learn from communities about the forms of knowledge developed beyond academic halls, especially if they are not coherent with scientific perspectives. Despite decades of investment in nutrition and health sciences, chronic diseases account for 70% of the deaths of all Americans and 75% of this country's annual health care costs. Unlike simpler cause/effect relationships of deficiency diseases, diet-related chronic disease and wellness issues are complex, systemic, multi-factorial problems. A growing number of observers argue that complex, systemic problems are among those proving most difficult for science, owing to epistemological and methodological limitations of prevailing scientific inquiry. Is it possible that forms of knowledge found within communities may be assets in helping to re-frame societal food and health problems Cross-cultural engagement (CCE) involves citizens who bring knowledge that does not correspond to scientific models. The CCE process creates intellectual space that overcomes opposition, allowing for bridging, navigation and translation at the interface of different forms of knowledge that presuppose different ideas about how the world works. Training in food and nutrition sciences can leave future professionals holding so tightly to western/biomedical models for understanding that knowledge assets in culturally diverse communities that are not commensurate with biomedical models are under-valued or disregarded. Imposing experimental designs and methodologies that are seen as internally valid by professional peers, yet viewed as inappropriate and/or disrespectful in diverse community settings is commonplace. Wallace describes scientific materialism as a set of ideological principles often conflated with science itself, wherein only physical phenomena are considered real. Cultural difference can expose implicit presuppositions that frame and therefore limit scientific thinking. Presuppositions represent a priori, metaphysical, self-reinforcing assumptions about how the world works. Nutrition science lacks an accepted operational means to direct critical, self-reflective inquiry into the web of metaphysical presuppositions upon which its methodologies are based. CCE offers one means by which scientists can begin to make more explicit shared yet implicit assumptions about science. Inviting consideration for other forms of knowledge may offer a mirror for such reflection, in addition to suggesting new ways of seeing and approaching food and health issues. As such, CCE can offer a process through which cultural diversity may be seen as a resource for improving the core functions of the academic enterprise.

Effective start/end date10/1/019/30/16


  • National Science Foundation: $350,000.00


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