Hank Walter first became interested in food insecurity during his junior year, while writing a paper on the tradition of communal dining. During his research he learned about an area of Dallas, south of I30 and east of I45, which has been called a “food desert,” a term meaning that the neighborhood lacks sustainable sources of food for its residents. According to Walter, food pantries and soup kitchens are only a stop-gap solution: “The closest grocery store is a 2-hour round-trip bus ride,” he said. Through interviewing residents of the area, Walter found that a lack of easily accessible, healthy food sources creates not only health problems for residents, but also contributes to mental illness.
Walter’s research into the food desert culminated in his senior thesis, “Food Insecurity in South Dallas: Revealing the Harmful Effect of Food Deserts in a Developing Metroplex.” At the urging of his adviser from Human Sciences and the Contemporary World, Dr. Carla Pezzia, Walter submitted his paper to the annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in Vancouver (April 29-May 2, 2016) and was accepted as a presenter. He received a University of Dallas Experience Award to offset the cost of attending the conference.
At the meeting, Walter participated in a panel discussion on food insecurity in urban areas. Out of the four panelists, he was the only undergraduate student. “It was really exciting to discuss my research and be able to contribute as an equal with other professionals,” he said.
In addition to honing his presentation skills, Walter also learned valuable lessons about networking at the meeting. “This was my first real introduction to networking,” he said. “I learned the norms and etiquette of going up to a random person and making a connection.”
Walter was also impressed by the variety of research and discussion topics represented at the meeting. “It was a really eye-opening experience. I had no idea that the study of anthropology included so many different areas,” he said. “I saw so much research from all over the world.” As a result of his experience at the conference, Walter is considering continuing his research into urban areas: “There are so many rich areas of study domestically. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
The UD Experience (UDE) awards encourage students to engage in activities in which they will present themselves professionally in pursuit of their vocational goals. Speak with your advisor and consult the UD website (http://udallas.edu/qep/ude/) for specific details about the application process.