The region of La Libertad in northwestern Peru is celebrated for its deep connection to customs such as fishing on Caballitos de Tortora (traditional reed rafts) and for its relics from Inca and Chimor Empires long past (1). With the Andes mountain range dramatically jutting out from the East and the Pacific Ocean touching the West, this diverse topological climate has also created a diverse culinary scene. Trujillo, the largest city in this region and the second-most metropolitan city in Peru, proudly boasts a reputation for great seafood dishes and ample access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Representing both Northern and Southern cuisine, dishes such as ceviche with ají mochero, sopa teóloga and shambar are staples of the local diet. In recent decades, however, La Libertad’s food landscape has become dominated by ice cream vendors, soda companies, and other multinational food corporations. A meta-analysis conducted by the World Health Organization showed that 58.2% of adults over 18 years of age in Peru are overweight or obese; that is well over half of the population (2). No one is immune from obesity and for various reasons, women and children are at greatest risk (3). Thus, this is a public health issue that requires urgent attention, action, and programs with accountability.
The Double Burden of Malnutrition in Peru:
Peru is considered by the World Bank to be a middle income country in Latin America, which makes it of particular interest. Both extreme poverty and extreme wealth exist in one of the world’s fastest growing economies (4). Consequently, Peru suffers from a double burden of malnutrition with high rates of undernutrition and stunting, as well as high rate of overweight and obesity (5). Peru has a centralized malnutrition policy, but this journalism project will emphasize the importance of decentralizing this policy through showing how malnutrition is affecting the La Libertad region specifically. The focus of this photo-journal research project will also focus on how malnutrition is causing obesity. As Peru rapidly transitions to an era of consumerism and capitalism, the diet has also transformed with increased access to refined carbohydrates, sugars, and saturated fats. Combined with a more sedentary lifestyle, Peru is facing an obesity crisis of epidemic proportions, for which it is not well equip. It is well known that obesity can lead to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which can thereby affects one’s ability to live a productive and healthy life (6). Additionally, according to the Center for Disease Control, childhood obesity is a strong predictor of poor health outcomes as an adult (7). By affecting daily wellness and productivity of the general population, obesity is causing a net loss of earnings for the economy and burdening the health care system (8). My hope is that through my visual and written essay, I can also highlight how changes in diet in the coastal, urban city of Trujillo have created a public health crisis.
El Corazón del Proyecto:
Using photography as a medium, my project will attempt to answer time-sensitive questions that look at how changes in diet are contributing to the rise in obesity. For example, what does the daily diet for a mother and child look like? How often are people eating out versus preparing their own meals? Is population density increasing or decreasing access to fresh foods? Known for being a seaport town, does seafood still dominant the local diet? Are traditional dishes prepared differently now than a generation ago? Is fresh food considered a luxury or a scarcity? These questions, and many more, have yet to be answered. Virtually no photo documentation exists that has captured how changes in diet may be fueling this public health crisis. This project proposal will command attention to this pandemic that is crippling Latin American countries such as Peru.
To gather my data, I plan to stay with locals met through my homestay as well as networking and community meetup groups. This intimate experience will showcase whether cultural foods or other readily accessible provisions are more commonly consumed. My intention with this project is not to come in with my own ideas of how to change the health of the population, but to instead capture the escalating obesity trends. With new visual evidence of the health and lifestyle of the population, local and national governments will hopefully be persuaded to tackle the obesity crisis through region-specific policies and local interventions.
My background in Photojournalism and Media:
My work as a journalist began after I graduated from UC San Diego. Together with some classmates, we created a website for other recent graduates to find international volunteer organizations that were both sustainable and transparent. Our field work lasted for 6 months visiting NGOs in 12 Asian countries. As the Creative Director, I was responsible for documenting our experiences using video and still cameras, while also interviewing both volunteers and volunteer coordinators. We blogged about our experiences along the way to inspire other young adults to use our site and to take advantage of their gap year. I got the experience of managing a team of interns for content production and publication. In addition, it gave me the platform to write and I was published by Saint Ignatius High School’s magazine, Genesis. In San Francisco, my work as a culinary tour guide has also inspired me to publish my food photography on the company website and to start this blog. My other experience in front of the camera comes from when I shared my own story of personal loss on Oprah Winfrey’s series Belief in the segment “A Change is Gonna Come”. This experience also allows me to empathize with others who struggle to share their stories of hardship.
Why I am Getting a Masters in Public Health and Nutrition:
The reason I am particularly passionate about food and nutrition is because of its complexity. Nothing brings people together in the same way food does; the need to consume food is something that everyone has in common. At the same time, too much food can have devastating consequences to one’s quality of life and the future of a country’s economy. With my candidacy for a Masters of Science in Public Health Nutrition, my educational training and confidence as a photographer, documentarian, and traveler equip me to take my learning outside of the classroom this summer. I hope to create a journalism piece that fills a knowledge gap and addresses health disparities in Peru through the lens of diet and nutrition.
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This project is dedicated to the following advocates for social justice, peace, and love who left us too soon: my mother, Julee Pygin; my sister, Kendra Fallon; and my Nepalese mother, Anju Sherpa.
1. "La Libertad." Peru: Where to Go. PROMPERU, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
2. "WHO | World Health Organization: Prevalence of Obesity." WHO | World Health Organization. World Health Organization, 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
3. "Obesity and Overweight." WHO. World Health Organization, 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
4. "Peru Overview." Peru Overview. The World Bank, 29 Sept. 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
5. "Nutrition at a Glance: Perú." DCIDOB No. 92.Perú (2004): 3. The World Bank, 20 Apr. 2010. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
6. "Adult Obesity Causes & Consequences." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 June 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
7. "Childhood Obesity Facts." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
8. "Nutrition at a Glance: Perú." DCIDOB No. 92.Perú (2004): 3. The World Bank, 20 Apr. 2010. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.