Burning Questions Fellowships 2019 Fall/Winter Award Winners

Overview of the Fellowships

Why do we offer these fellowships?

  • The fellowships support academic researchers who are interested in:
    • Helping front-line persons tackling negative impacts of global industrial food animal production (especially in low- and middle-income countries) deepen their understanding of the many complex issues involved.
    • Examining these impacts and issues for the researchers’ own scholarly purposes.
  • The fellowships are also aimed at benefiting front-line persons by offering them academic research findings, perspectives, and suggestions relevant to “burning questions” some of them have asked.

What will the winners produce during their four-month award period?

  • The main task of a fellowship recipient during the award period is to prepare one Guidance Memo in plain language.
  • Guidance Memos are documents prepared specifically to assist front-line persons who are the end users, written from the perspectives of academics.
  • Topics addressed in Guidance Memos are directly relevant to “burning questions”.
  • Guidance Memos’ primary objective: To provide sound information and clear explanations that deepen front-line persons’ understanding of the issues addressed; to highlight key considerations that they may not be aware of; to offer practical advice that helps their decision-making and work.

2019 Fall/Winter Award Winners

Kristie O’Neill

Location: Canada
Academic field: Sociology
Award category: PhD-holder

Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  1. To understand the overt as well as subtle cultural themes and messages currently circulating in Kenyan society about animal and plant-based food and diet. The focus is on analyzing Kenyan popular media such as magazines and blogs.
  2. To inform and explain to activists about the types of cultural messages on reducing animal foods that are likely to be effective and gain traction in Kenya.

Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application

  • The main topic addressed by this application is about food culture in Kenya today, especially how the consumption of meat and non-meat food is perceived and promoted in popular media. This topic is highly relevant to some “burning questions”.
    • Among the “burning questions” asked by front-line persons is a key group of questions about the consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs, especially reducing consumer demand for these products.
    • But how, how much, what kinds, and why animal-based food are consumed in different parts of the world vary tremendously. There is no single model, intervention, or strategy that can disrupt the current consumption patterns and reduce demands in all places. One has to expend the effort to understand and grapple with each place, society, and culture one at a time. And such efforts applied to a country in Africa is quite rare.
  • The approach taken and the outcome sought by the applicant is very practical and granular.
    • There is a recent upsurge in food festivals, food blogs and magazines in Kenya. This is an opportunity for outreach by advocates who want to reduce animal-based food consumption in the country (e.g. they can start their own blogs, write to newspapers, or use other media outreach strategies). But they must understand the cultural expectations and use messages that resonate with people in Kenya.
    • The applicant’s aim is to do a content analysis of Kenyan popular media to “uncover and examine the messages that are pitched to reading audiences about plant and animal-based foods” in order to figure out the best kinds of culturally appropriate messages that activists can employ.

Kiara Winans; Irina Mkrtchyan

Location: United States (Winans), Armenia (Mkrtchyan)
Academic field: Environmental science and engineering (Winans), Sustainability (Mkrtchyan)
Award category: PhD Team
Topics to be Addressed during the Award Period

  1. Characterize industrial-scale, intensive cattle and pig production systems in Armenia (especially environmental conditions, animal welfare, value chains, processing and products, quantification of environmental and human health impacts). Comparisons with small-scale systems.
  2. Outline current economic drivers of industrial-scale, intensive cattle and pig production systems in Armenia (including addressing post-soviet regime changes that led to some of the industrialize-scale production systems).
  3. Identify specific points in which linkages and partnerships can be built among industrial-scale
    cattle and pig producers, small-scale cattle and pig farmers, the Armenian government, and consumer groups with the goal of reducing harmful animal, environmental and human health impacts of industrial production while supporting sustainable practices and the economic viability of small farmers.

Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application

  • One of the applicant’s chief aims is to give an overview of how and why industrial animal agriculture is developing in Armenia – a country which does not come to one’s mind readily when one thinks of places in the world engaged in industrial-scale production of food animals. But this “surprise” makes it all the more important to understand the reasons and pathways involved.
  • In addition to covering broad topics, the applicant will also pay attention to specific practical matters/issues (e.g. provide small farmers with useful data and information about their production methods that they currently don’t have access to because of disconnections in the value chain and a top-down approach of the government).
  • The applicant will use and collect data from fieldwork as well as historical government documents in Armenia.
  • The applicant will contact a range of stakeholders (e.g. the team will work with the Armenian Ministry of Economy (formerly, Ministry of Agriculture) and the Armenian National Agrarian University; it will interview pig and cattle farmers). The goal is to assist them and get all of them involved to solve problems.