Wilson Center Experts

Ellen Messer

Fellow

Affiliation:
Visiting Associate Professor, School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University
Wilson Center Project(s):
"Ending Hunger: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (and Gone?)"
Term:
Sep 01, 2000
-
May 01, 2001

I am an anthropologist dedicated to (rooting out) hunger and (promoting) human rights. When training in ecological anthropology at the University of Michigan in the 1970s, I carried out ethnobotanical fieldwork in Mexico, an experience that has instilled a lifelong interest in comparative analysis of methods of transforming food and medical systems -- especially the roles women play in these transformations and the impact it has on their lives. After teaching anthropology at Yale University and Wheaton, I moved on to the multi-disciplinary World Hunger Program at Brown University, where we operated simultaneously as an academic think-tank, NGO, and science policy center, facilitating communications among academic researchers, policy makers, and field practitioners. After Brown terminated the WHP, I moved to the School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, my present location. My current research explores what happened to the U.S. anti-hunger movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and the ways "hunger" activities intersect with the institutions and values of environmental science and policy. Three related projects explore policies to reduce war-related hunger, possible ways to turn positive religious energies toward the elimination of hunger, and innovative scenarios using water for food security. I also enjoy hiking and birdwatching, cooking and culinary history, biblical exegesis and religious dialogue, and occasionally write poetry.


Expertise

Anthropology, specifically: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Human Right to Food; Biocultural Determinants of Food and Nutrition Intake; Sustainable Food Systems (with special emphasis on the roles of NGOs); Impacts of Agrobiotechnology on Hunger; and Cultural History of Nutrition, Agriculture, and Food Science

Project Summary

This project examines what happened to "ending hunger" as a mobilizing idea, value, and goal for the late 20th century. Conceptually, I seek to understand:



  • the dynamics by which individual moral values and commitments such as "ending hunger" are translated into successful social movements,

  • the contexts in which advocacy organizations initially made up of a few inspired individuals "scale up" to reach millions, and

  • the circumstances under which such efforts are sustainable.





The study constructs case-histories of four focal NGOs:



  • Food First

  • The Hunger Project

  • The World Hunger Program at Brown University

    Second Harvest





In revealing the forces behind the changing US world-hunger agenda, 1974-1999, the study also promises to:

  • elucidate a significant world problem (hunger) in relation to advocacy and public-policy agendas,

  • suggest ways to improve efforts against hunger, and

  • provide a model and methodology for understanding the social mobilization process, which should be useful for analyzing social mobilization around other goals, such as environmental protection and human rights.

Major Publications

  • Who's Hungry? and How Do We Know? Food Shortage, Poverty, and Deprivation, with Laurie Fields Derose and Sara Millman (United Nations University Press, 1999)

  • "Food from Peace: Breaking the Links Between Hunger and Conflict," with Marc J. Cohen and Jashinta D'Costa (International Food Policy & Research Institute [IFPRI], 2020 Brief Series, 1998)

  • The Hunger Report: 1995, edited with P. Uvin (Gordon & Breach, 1996)

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