Bird '08 Wins Watson to Study Food Inequality

Meredith Bird '08, a 2015 graduate of Colorado College, was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for her project "Hungering to Feed," which will take her to Spain, India, Tanzania, and Uganda to study food inequality.

Of her project, Bird writes, "The symptoms of food inequality come in many forms, such as food insecurity, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, and food waste. All of these pose a monumental threat to the health of communities worldwide. During my Watson year I will explore the different facets of food inequality and how they are dealt with, or not dealt with, in different countries across the globe. Specifically, I will look at the roots, manifestations, and cultural implications of food inequality. I will learn from both those who are leading initiatives to confront food inequity in their communities and those who are most affected by food inequality."

At Colorado College, Bird majored in Southwest Studies, and was one of the founders of the non-profit Colorado Springs Food Rescue, which aims to increase the equal distribution of nutritious food while simultaneously decreasing food waste. As a Watson Fellow, she'll receive $30,000 for 12 months of travel.

Born and raised in Andover, Massachusetts, Bird recalls her early awareness of the issue of food inequality:

My hometown of Andover, Massachusetts, has a long agrarian history. The once-bountiful land, however, now accommodates housing developments and shopping complexes, making horticulture a rarity. Our backyard was an exception. Nestled behind my childhood home, there was a vegetable garden, meticulously tended by my father. It was the source of nearly all our summer produce and a tremendous joy. My siblings and I helped pick out seeds, got our hands dirty planting them, and excitedly reaped the benefits every summer. Our neighbors came over to pick lettuce and tomatoes, and guests always returned home with an armful of oversized zucchinis. Thus, my first glimpse into the world of food cultivation was marked by generosity, community, and enjoyment. For a while I had the romantic ideal that most of the world experienced food in the same manner. After all, one commonality between all humans is our need for food. I soon discovered, however, that there are drastic differences in how this common need is, or is not, met.
During high school, I volunteered for a soup truck in Lawrence, Massachusetts. With a poverty level of over 40 percent, there are many people going hungry there. I started making meals at one of the city’s homeless shelters when I was nine, but it was not until the soup truck that I saw the face of hunger. My mom and I would load up the truck with a twenty-gallon vat of chicken noodle soup and hundreds of bologna sandwiches. For two hours we drove around the city, stopping at blocks that were frequented by the city’s homeless population. No matter the weather, a long line with people of all ethnicities and ages would form behind the truck. I never thought of bologna sandwiches as exciting until I saw how they lit up the faces of those we served. I loved being a part of this excitement, yet I felt uncomfortable about the privilege that landed me on the serving side of the soup truck. I was also unnerved by the fact that I was handing out a meal that I would not choose to eat myself. Why would I when I had everything from leafy greens to salmon waiting for me back home?