University Hosts Food and Nutrition Expo

Urban Food Task Force event highlighted the many ways food touches people’s lives.
neal barnard food expo
Neal Barnard, adjunct associate professor of medicine, discusses the benefits of a plant-based diet at GW's first "Research and Education in Food and Nutrition" expo in the Marvin Center on March 28.
April 01, 2013

The George Washington University’s Urban Food Task Force hosted its first-ever “Research and Education in Food and Nutrition” expo March 28.

It was a chance, said Diane Robinson Knapp, chair of the task force, to “spotlight the variety of ways that faculty, student, alumni and community partners are involved in advancing our knowledge of the many cultural, social and scientific dimensions of food and nutrition.”

As attendees filtered in and out of the Marvin Center last week, they learned about a vast array of food topics, attending panel discussions, research poster presentations, keynote speeches and even a cooking demonstration.

“Food is at the heart of many economic and public health challenges that we face around the world,” Ms. Knapp said in opening remarks. “I think you’ll be impressed to learn how much we are doing right here at the George Washington University to address those challenges.”

The day’s panels ran the gamut. Experts talked bees, such as how urban apiaries create vastly divergent honey since bees collect pollen from a diverse environment, and how 8,000-year-old honey found in Egyptian tombs is still good to eat, thanks to its high sugar content and anti-microbial properties.

Others talked about chocolate, including its storied history as a drink that was the “ultimate status good” for an Aztec warrior and its mostly inconclusive health benefits, like lowering blood pressure and helping diabetics control their blood sugar. (Bottom line: “Enjoy your chocolate—and exercise along with it,” one nutritionist said.)

And others yet, including Ms. Knapp, talked about GW’s Integrated Food Project, an initiative among GW, School Without Walls and chef Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup that works to incorporate food and nutrition lessons into existing curriculum, from biology to history and culture.

Panels on food security and sustainability, including the evidence regarding the role of food in health and disease, and a screening of “The Capital Buzz,” a student-produced documentary, rounded out the afternoon—but not without a cooking demonstration from Paul Yeck, the head chef at Jaleo. Mr. Yeck, to audience members’ delight, demonstrated “spherification” of an olive, or the process of taking olive juice and barely solidifying it into a sphere that holds its shape with an intense olive liquid inside.

Closing last week’s expo, Neal Barnard, adjunct associate professor of medicine at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, highlighted what he considers the “two most menacing epidemics of our time”—diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Diabetes, Dr. Barnard said, has “roared up in unprecedented ways.” But the good news is that changes in lifestyle can reduce one’s risk for the disease.

The answer lies in a vegetarian or vegan diet, Dr. Barnard said, pointing to studies that have shown type 2 diabetics have reversed their condition by changing the food they eat, eschewing meat, chicken and cheese for fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes.

The same applies for decreasing Alzheimer’s disease risk, Dr. Barnard added. Studies have shown that too much saturated fat—25 grams or more per day—can hike a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s, he said.

“I believe that we can prevent 70 to 80 percent of Alzheimer’s disease cases,” he said. “Is that true? I don’t know. I want to put that to the test.”

Dr. Barnard closed by emphasizing the importance of ensuring that children learn a healthy lifestyle from an early age. Childhood obesity remains an epidemic in the United States, with “back-breaking” financial implications and “incalculable” personal costs, he said.

“The only way to change that is to recognize that industry and politics conspire against our best wishes,” he said. “But if we can realize there is nothing more important than the health of ourselves, our families and most importantly our kids, we’re going to revolutionize the health of this country.”

George Washington President Steven Knapp, who provided closing remarks, said the expo was a success.

“It’s been an important way of showing our entire university community and our neighbors that we do have tremendous strengths across our faculty and students and a great deal of interest in all the issues that intersect over the topic of food,” he said.