University of Oregon

Graduate Student Alumni

Craig Van Pelt, PhD, Sociology ’18

Dissertation Title: Food Values and the Human Right to Food: A Sociological Analysis of Food Insecurity in Oregon

Abstract: Treating food as a commodity is a dominant mode of valuing food in the United States, and around the world, in which people exchange money for food. But in a world that can feed over 10-billion people why is poverty still a primary barrier to food security? This dissertation adds to the food justice and political economy literature by arguing that food insecurity will linger far into the future, despite technological advancements, because of the current food system which values food as a commodity instead of valuing food as a human right. Through an analysis of 23 semi-structured interviews with volunteers and workers in Oregon, and field research at a community garden, this dissertation highlights how even in the minds of people who advocate for food as a human right, the human right to food may only a right to people with enough money. This research illuminates how thinking of food as a money-exchange commodity builds a socially constructed wall between hungry people and abundant food.


Jean Faye, PhD Environmental Studies ’18

Dissertation Title: Farming and Meaning at the Desert’s Edge: Can Serer Indigenous Agricultural and Cultural Systems Coevolve Towards Sustainability?

Abstract: Indigenous agroforestry systems, or the intentional use of trees and livestock in croplands, have a long history in the West African Sahel. In many locations, they have long contributed to food security and climate change resilience. But a century or more of cash cropping and use of modern agricultural inputs and tools has meant that no such agroforestry systems remain intact, and many are extinct, including in west-central Senegal, where the Serer historic mixed farming and pastoral strategies previously provided resilience to cyclical droughts and colonial-era agricultural and economic change but are now neither intact nor extinct. This study examines the current state of Serer agroecosystems, considering who uses what elements of the old systems, who has introduced what elements of nonindigenous farming systems, and whether this combination of local and imported farming systems is a coherent and sustainable fusion, or an incoherent pastiche leading toward agrarian collapse. I argue that, depending on how farmers integrate new models with the technical and cultural elements of the old system, a coherent fusion may result, with positive implications for sustainability, climate change adaptation, soil replenishment, crop yield, and livelihood resilience. This mixed-methods study draws upon literature from cultural ecology, agroecology, socioecological resilience, and history to interpret farmers’ accounts of changing agrarian practices. The study links ethnographic findings to empirical analysis of soil conditions and land use change. With these tools, my research sheds new light on the evolving role of local techniques and knowledge in the struggle to maintain agricultural productivity, as Sahelian communities confront soil fertility depletion, food insecurity, and climate change. The study finds that farming communities in this region can strengthen their livelihood resilience and enhance crop yields if they update elements of the well-adapted historic farming system, employ new techniques and tools, and in the process, forge coherent farming systems that still make cultural sense to farmers.


Erin Crnkovich, M.S. Environmental Studies ’18

Thesis/Project Title: GMO: Friend or Foe? An Analysis of the GMO Debate with Special Focus on India

Abstract: Approximately thirty years after their inception, the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, remains contentious. Often, proponents of their use contend that the potential of GMOs to mitigate poverty and hunger in the “developing world” outweighs concerns in the “developed world” about their potential risks. This line of argument simultaneously decontextualizes poverty in the “developing world” from its multi-faceted roots in favor of a simple technological fix and precludes the possibility of anti-GMO sentiment that originates within the “developing world” itself. Focusing on India, I first shed light on the history of applying such simple technological fixes to the problem of hunger and then utilize textual analysis to explore varying perspectives on GMOs in order to make a case for why debates focusing on an objective “goodness” or “badness” of GMOs miss the point.


Kaitlyn Elias, M.A. International Studies ’18

Thesis/Project Title: Value Creation: The Dynamic Position of Policy Change in The Global Tea Industry

Abstract: In this sector analysis I report on my investigation of the International Smallholder Tea Sector and its incorporation into global policy spheres. “Globally, tea smallholder sector covers 70% of the plantation area and produces 60% of the global tea production volume (UNFAO, 2017) Therefore, I argue that smallholder farmers should play a greater role in creating value through representation in dynamic policy discussions, such as the UNFAO Intergovernmental Group on Tea. I address how small landholders are economically developing and overall industry strategy. I suggest governance structures in order to address challenges and opportunities in future development and specifically look at the dynamic position of global policy making and industry trends, as they pertain to the potential for sustainability and long term-success of this important industry. My regional emphasis on South Asia provides a setting to focus on shared global trends as they pertain to social, cultural, biological production atmospheres.


Kassandra Hishida, M.S. Environmental Studies ’17

Thesis/Project Title: School Gardens and Food Justice: Cultivating a Critical Curriculum


Jared Pruch, M.S. Environmental Studies ’17

Thesis/Project Title: How do Conservation Land Trusts Come to Embrace Agriculture? A Case Study from Oregon

Abstract: In part because of the state’s unique land use system, Oregon’s land trusts have largely focused their efforts on the protection of lands with wildlife habitat values, rather than productive agricultural land. And yet a confluence of contemporary trends – including population growth, aging farmer-landowners, and a growing regard for the conservation values embedded in well-stewarded farmland – are causing some land trusts to re-evaluate their conservation priorities. By conducting in-depth interviews with land trust staff and board members, farmers and ranchers, and land use advocates around the state, my work seeks to make transparent the network of influences underlying this shift. Making use of nonprofit management theory, I argue that land trusts change their conservation priorities through a combination of environmental assessment and managerial vision. Several predictors – willingness to innovate, agricultural representation within the organization, and community priorities – increase the likelihood that land trusts will include farmland as a conservation priority.


Deion Jones, M.S. Environmental Studies ’16

Thesis/Project Title: American Jerk: Jamaican Foodways in the United States


Nick Dreher, M.S. Environmental Studies ’16

Thesis/Project Title: Growing Relationships: Social Ties in Eugene, Oregon Local Food Distribution

Abstract: This study delves into the local food system of Eugene, Oregon to focus on this community’s small-scale growers and their distribution strategies. The various distribution strategies open to small-scale local growers each require their own kind of work. In determining how to allocate their time and energy, growers consider these activities alongside the benefits that each distribution strategy offers. Certain distribution arrangements with smaller bulk buyers like restaurants and community grocery stores, which I term “direct wholesale” arrangements, offer the benefit of providing long-term, close relationships. These arrangements provide value that more than compensates for the work of establishing and maintaining these arrangements in the first place. In this context, these close-ties developed through “direct wholesale” provide the best platform for the viability of a small-scale, local farm in Eugene, Oregon.


Elizabeth Valdez, M.A. Romance Languages ’16


Nicollette Ulrich, M.A. Nonprofit Management ’16 and International Studies

Thesis/Project Title: Community Cultivators: Community Gardens and Refugees in Portland, Oregon

Abstract: This thesis explores the relationship between community gardens in Portland, Oregon, and the refugee integration process. Using interviews and observations of a community garden in southeast Portland, the research explores the actors and organizations working with refugees in community gardens all over the city. The most prominent actors in the community garden networks are referred to as Community Cultivators. These individuals are refugees and also strongly tied to organizations and institutions in Portland. It is through these social networks that Community Cultivators are able to build bridges between their refugee communities and Portland-based organizations, fostering integration. This research also explores how integration happens in the community gardens in Portland and why community gardens are able to foster these relationships. The foundational framework used in this research is Alison Ager and Alistar Strang’s (2008) Indicators of Integration, which is adapted for the unique process of refugee integration through community gardens engagement.


Lacey Johnson, M.A. International Studies ’15

Thesis/Project Title: Understanding the Livelihoods of Women in the Local Foodscape: A Case Study of Accra, Ghana

Abstract: Women farmers in Accra, Ghana function in spaces that are delineated by gendered social, political and economic structures. It is essential for planners and policymakers to understand the gender dynamics involved, so as not to increase burdens on women’s productive and reproductive roles on urban farms. This thesis problematizes the solitary subject of urban women in development, situating them into the context of Accra’s urban and peri-urban spaces. My research draws on feminist theory to highlight the intersectionalities of women in Accra and the way that their individual experiences are impacted by homogenous development frameworks. The case study examines the role of urban and peri-urban agriculture in addressing the needs of women farmers in Accra. The findings of this study acknowledge various forms of empowerment and autonomy that women experience as urban farmers in Accra, and they highlight how the hybridity of urban agriculture is challenging mainstream urban development.


Christina Gooch, M.S. Environmental Studies ’15 – Interests: Food and education, experiential learning, food movements.

Thesis/Project Title: Food Studies Abroad: Identity, Consumption, and Learning in Italy

Abstract: Food studies offers a powerful lens through which to consider the complexity of travel, given the ways in which food can bring multiple perspectives to the table. The merging of food studies with the well-established tradition of study abroad, then, provides a platform for incorporating critical thinking and fresh perspectives into the discourse surrounding study abroad. How does food studies abroad reflect the opportunities and reify the concerns posed by study abroad in general? I explore this topic through a case study of a University of Oregon food studies abroad program, Food and Culture in Italy, looking specifically at students’ motivations, on-site experience, and perceived outcomes. I employ the lenses of identity, consumption, and experiential learning to discuss the trends that emerge from the data and conclude with a series of recommendations for moving thoughtfully and critically forward with food studies abroad programming.


Ryan Eanes, PhD, School of Journalism & Communication ’15

Dissertation Title: Self-Monitoring and Perceptions of Situational Privacy as Potential Moderators of Smartphone Uses and Gratifications: An Experimental Investigation 

Abstract: Smartphones continue to grow increasingly ubiquitous for a variety of reasons. This study employed an online survey experiment in order to determine whether perceptions of environmental/locational privacy or individual levels of self-monitoring have any effect on smartphone uses and gratifications. While perceptions of locational privacy did indeed have a modest effect on smartphone gratifications sought, self-monitoring did not, and no interactions were detected between locational privacy and self-monitoring. Implications for these findings as well as avenues for future research are discussed.


Jacob Woods, MBA, Lundquist College of Business ’15