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After ​becoming interested in nutrition in middle school, I considered studying nutrition and becoming a dietician. Eating disorders were close to my heart for a variety of reasons, and I was very interested in the relationship between food and individual health. Inspired by this interest, I later completed my high school AP Capstone Seminar individual research project on the impact of food inaccessibility on those who live in American food deserts as well as potential solutions for this issue. Food deserts are defined as places where at least 500 people or at least 33% of the population live more than a mile from the nearest supermarket. In these locations, the population does not have access to healthy food, such as that found in grocery stores, and must instead purchase food from convenience stores, fast food restaurants, or other local options. Using case studies from various American cities, I analyzed programs at the commercial, governmental, and non-profit levels. This project allowed me to see the impact of food on a societal level, and began to spark my interest in food justice. 

Portrait photograph of Katherine Lewis
Katherine Lewis is joining the News Team this Spring.

In high school, however, my plans of becoming a dietician changed when I started volunteering withInterfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati(IHN), a homeless shelter in my hometown. Unlike the traditional model, IHN has a central location but shuttles the families in its care to over 100 local churches and synagogues where they are hosted for a week at a time. This model reduces resource strain on any one organization. Additionally, parents are given assistance in searching for jobs and housing during their time with the program.

My volunteer work IHN allowed me to put a face to the statistics about homelessness in my home city of Cincinnati, Ohio. During my time as a volunteer with this organization, I began to recognize the importance of humanity and compassion in public policy. While volunteering, I helped serve the families dinner, ate with them, and played with the kids until they went to bed. These children were just like any other— they wanted to play Wii, paint their nails, swing, and play soccer. However, they were far too young to fully understand the situation that they and their parents were in. This work allowed me to see firsthand the effects of modern wealth inequality on individuals who are caught in the cycle of poverty, and I became inspired to use my college education to help others. This realization, along with my interest in nutrition and health, led me to the study of public health, which, for me, represents the intersection of these two passions. 

At Emory, I have continued my involvement in public health by volunteering with Emory Food Chain, a student-run organization that works to reduce food waste at Emory by distributing extra food from the dining halls to local homeless shelters. I also participated in an Alternative Fall Break trip to Savannah, Georgia, the theme of which was “Intersections of Identity and Food Justice”. On this trip, organized by Volunteer Emory, we volunteered with a variety of organizations addressing food insecurity in Savannah and examined the issue through different perspectives.

My volunteer work in high school and college has inspired me to enter the field of community health and food justice. I want to study public health so I can address the needs of under-served communities at the policy level and represent those who do not have the opportunity to represent themselves. By learning about the needs of these communities both in a traditional classroom setting and through hands-on learning outside of the classroom, I will be more prepared to create positive change and make a real difference in people’s lives.