Food science and nutrition doctoral student talks about food security research

By Grace Stetsko

Ana in her labAna Altares is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University.

Tell us a little about your background

I grew up in south Louisiana. My father cooked from scratch often, which sparked my interest in cooking, and my mother was an avid gardener. I came from a lower income family, but was lucky enough to be raised in a family that engaged in healthy eating habits. I did my bachelor’s degree in animal science at Louisiana State University and started studying beef cattle nutrition there. I continued my studies at a research institute in South America. When I returned to the United States, I was a little lost and did not know what to do next. I took a break from school and established residency in Colorado. I got involved with a prediabetes youth group here and found this very interesting, so I decided to apply to CSU!

Tell us about your research

My research in Dr. Megan Mueller’s lab is focused on food security. I have come to see that food access is a driving force in nutrition and malnutrition, which could be obesity or hunger. I am specifically looking at a high cost of living area in Aspen, Colorado. Most people know this area to be very affluent. I would like to look at middle income families that are considered low income because they are living in this region. However, they are unable to access federal food assistance because they make too much money. I want to look into their barriers for food access on a physical and psychosocial level to understand how they experience food insecurity. I plan to do this two ways—through surveys and photovoice. Photovoice is a method where we have community members take pictures of things in their lives that affect their access to food, which could be physical (grocery store is too far) or emotional (shame of using resources). We will then form focus groups to empower these individuals to share their individual experience with food insecurity.

What are your plans after you graduate?Ana Altares

I will likely do a postdoc continuing my research in food security, but I also have an interest in working in food policy. It could be that I go into academia and stay on the research track with food insecurity and food access or work for a non-profit conducting food policy research.

What advice would you give to incoming PhD students?

Take a lot of statistics classes. If you do really want to do research, you need a strong foundation in statistics. Also, do not say yes to any/all research. Find something you get excited talking about and think you can stick with for a long time.

The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences