GSIF Week 4 (2/9/19-2/15/19)

Our food will mostly be made from ingredients that can be found in nature, like plantains, wheat, sweet potatoes, and more. One interesting biomimicry application is ANSA- the Autonomous Nutrient Supply Alternative. While this project doesn’t exactly relate to ours, it’s an interesting concept. The team members realized that food insecurity is a prominent issue in developing countries, so they tried to solve problems of lack of space, water, low-quality soil, limited food accessibility, and high cost of nutritious foods all in one product. They used cyanobacteria as their model and tried to mimic  its ability to produce its own food by designing a multi compartmental growing space with solar powered LED lights for crops. One of the team members explained, “In nature there is no waste. Waste becomes nutrients for other organisms to thrive … We’re trying to propel the (food) system into a closed-loop cycle.” ANSA does so by providing healthy and organic food to populations with limited resources and a high demand for food by changing the way they grow crops. This translates to our project because we also want to minimize waste in the packaging of our material and in the manufacturing process for both cost and environmental purposes.

The Life Principle of being locally tuned and responsive relates to our malnutrition project. It is very important that our food product is made with local materials and local resources and that it follows local regulations and customs. Our future food and its packaging will be sourced and produced by resources in Sierra Leone. This will make for a more efficient supply chain and minimization of energy consumption. We hope to locally source every ingredient, but there is the possibility that we will need to outsource the supplemental vitamins for our product. Sierra Leone has the Pharmacy Board, a comparable organization to the FDA. Our product would need to be evaluated to ensure that it is safe for human consumption.

Our product will be as organic and natural as possible. While this is an important concept to our project, it is also important that we do not sacrifice nutrition, cost, and ease of use for solely technical and biological nutrients as described in the Cradle to Cradle Design Concept. We were originally thinking of a dried porridge material distributed in single-use packaging. We wanted to create an environmentally-friendly, easy-to-use packaging, but now we are considering other options for both packaging and the recipe. We have been looking into packaging materials that would allow us to instantly heat the porridge or instantly add water. These could potentially be reusable dishes or packages that would minimize our impact on the environment.

Different cultures and countries have cool customs that could be completely alien to people only visiting. For example, when I visited Spain, I had heard about siestas and the different eating times, but I did not realize how different it would really be. I went from eating a very early dinner at home (around 5pm) to eating at 10 o’clock at night. Every meal was pushed later into the day, where people would eat lunch around the time of their siesta (around 2pm) so they weren’t hungry before dinner. This is another concept that is completely unrelated to our project, but it indicates how things that are completely normal in one culture can be a foreign concept to another. We have tried to keep this in mind when designing out product. The cultural implications and whether or not people would actually like or want to use our product have helped us make all of our decisions.

GSIF Week 3 (2/3/19-2/10/19)

There are many stakeholders in our project, and some are hard to identify without knowing exactly what our product is. The first major stakeholder of our product is the customer, including children between 6 and 24 months, their mothers, and other women with influence in the family. Our product is designed to address micronutrient deficiencies of children in this age group, but children between 6 months and 1 year require different nutrient values than a child between 1 year and 2. In order for them to want to buy this product, it must address the main 4 micronutrients: iron, zinc, vitamin A, iodine. The food needs to taste good, have a normal texture, and potentially look good in order for mother’s to buy this product and keep buying it. It also needs to be affordable. Other women and influencers in the family are important because they sometimes help mothers make decisions for the children and are the people that pass down any food taboos that mothers may believe in.

Our product will be produced and manufactured in Sierra Leone, so we will need both suppliers for ingredient of our product and laborers to manufacture and sell it. We will need to acquire our ingredients from markets and farmers in Sierra Leone. For that reason, it is very difficult to identify cost of our products. The manufacturing of our food and packaging will ideally both be done in Sierra Leone, so there must be clear instructions for how to produce our product and how to solve any problems they may face. Women will be selling our product in markets where bargaining and haggling is common. We will need to sell our product for a set price to cover our ingredients, labor, and overhead costs. Both of these groups need to be paid, and these costs will need to be budgeted out of our production cost.

Other groups in Sierra Leone like community health workers and employees at World Hope International will most likely be impacted by our project. I imagine that they will help families gain access to this product and help us stay in contact with our manufacturers and distributors.

Lastly, our team, including Professor Herz, Professor Pinter, and Khanjan are all stakeholders in the project. Our team of students (Rachel Caffrey, Matt Feryo, and Sudi Shankar) are the ones designing the product and making choices that impact its nutrition content and safety. We hope to be able to publish our findings and impact of the product, but any potential issues that could arise would lead back to us. If any changes were needed in the recipe, those questions would be directed toward us as well.

We have reached out to many different external sources for advice on our project and research thus far. Our first contact in the Fall of 2018 was Allieu Samuel Bangura, Director of Health and Nutrition at World Hope International. We explained that we were considering two different types of products, and he agreed that a supplement product like a porridge would have a better lasting impact in Sierra Leone because it is something that is already part of their culture. We have had trouble connecting with Mr. Bangura because of the time difference and conflicting schedules, so we may need to reach out to other people living in Sierra Leone for information on food prices and what consumers may like.

Nutritionists and sensory specialists can give us insight on the eating habits of children whether they do or don’t live in Sierra Leone. The types of foods a baby can or can’t eat and will or won’t like is universal. By explaining our recipes and ideas to nutritionists here, and providing our calculations for nutrition content, we will be able to gauge whether or not our product would solve micronutrient issues. A sensory specialist has insight on taste and texture preferences, characteristics that are very important to our product. By communicating with a sensory specialist, we will have a better idea of whether or not a child in our age group would consume our product.

Most importantly, I think we need to be open and honest throughout our entire research process. There definitely isn’t one right answer of what our product should be, and we can only decide what’s best by considering all of our sources and research. At this point in our project, we have a pretty solidified bouillon cube recipe and a working porridge recipe. We have gotten advice from some of our sources, but it doesn’t make much sense for us to reach out to nutritionists and sensory specialists until we are a little further along in our recipe building.

GSIF Week 2

My team and I are trying to tackle malnutrition in 6-24 months old children in Sierra Leone where one-fourth of children die before their fifth birthday and maternal mortality is the highest in the world. Before we even considered what kind of food we were going to make, the first question was why. Why is malnutrition still such an insurmountable problem despite efforts made from all over the world and despite the availability of nutritious foods in Sierra Leone? The basis of the issue is that children are not getting access to nutritious foods, and when they do, it’s only temporary. Over 70% of the population lives on less than $1 a day so food must be cheap. Rice is a staple in Sierra Leone and is typically consumed at every meal, but it does not have any nutritional value. Cultural taboos hinder what can and cannot be eaten. Many families choose not to eat meat, eggs, or bananas for various reasons. These taboos are passed down by mothers and other women in the family, and they are currently the ones being heard. When a mother has a question about medicine or nutrition, she typically goes to another woman in the household for advice, not a community health worker. Because of this influence, mothers are often not exclusively breastfeeding until six months, or they aren’t feeding their children properly, causing malnutrition and developmental issues. We are working to make a food that is nutritious, cheap, and easy to use to fix these problems. Ease of use is kind of a difficult thing to tackle. Most people in Sierra Leone do speak English, but there are things about our future product that are difficult to explain in words, especially on packaging, which is why we need clear, concise images on our packaging to prevent confusion on how to use our product. This graphic packaging will have directions for use, ingredient amounts, and limited words that are easy to follow to alleviate any potential confusion.

Unfortunately, many of these issues cannot be applied to the US. Many people in Sierra Leone live on less than $1 per day, and the average American household spends $20 just on food in one day. Food insecurity and hunger are definitely problems that still need to be fixed, but children do not go malnourished at any rate close to those in Sierra Leone. Like food anywhere, our product needs to taste good, have a normal texture, and have easy, attractive packaging. This includes a packaging with clear images of portions or any recipes our product will have. One thing in our favor, is that people of Sierra Leone tend to be drawn to packaging that looks American- they see it as high quality.

Sierra Leone presents different challenges than the US because people have such little money to spend. First, making a product that has enough micronutrients and still costs only a few cents to make will be difficult. It will be hard to purchase materials and foods while still being able to pay for labor costs. Next, Sierra Leone severely lacks physicians and it is difficult to connect with community health workers, especially from remote areas. This is difficult for us because these would potentially be the people helping us connect with mothers and families to communicate with them and ask them to try our product. Finally, Khanjan has explained that many people in Sierra Leone expect compensation if they are ever asked to attend training sessions or similar meetings. We will definitely have to interview mothers and families, and hope this doesn’t prove to be an issue for us.

With that being said, there are resources in Sierra Leone that will help us. We are expecting World Hope International to be a great resource and guide for us during fieldwork. We are also already in contact with one of the program directors, Allieu Bangura for advice on our recipes and life in Sierra Leone. Many families shop in a marketplace, which is where we would sell our product. We will be able to visit these markets and learn how they work during fieldwork to see how our product would be sold to families. Lastly, with products like Bennimix and other micronutrient treatments, babies are used to eating porridge-like foods which is great in our case. We had always assumed that children eat foods with a porridge consistency because they’re soft and easy to eat, but it’s not just that. A nutritionist informed us that porridge is a great product for children in our age group because it aids in sensory development and teaches kids to chew and swallow food like they’re supposed to.

GSIF Week 1 (1/21-1/25)

Hi! Welcome to my first blog post 🙂

I enrolled in this course in the beginning of the Fall 2018 semester without really knowing the extent of what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know what Creative Inquiry was and it probably wasn’t until mid-October that I realized many other creative-inquiry projects were going on. Realizing the impact and scope of this projects and the others has made me really excited about the work we’ve done so far. I have always wanted to make a career out of helping people and really making a difference, which is part of the reason why I decided to study bioengineering. I am well aware that I am fortunate enough to be receiving a world-class education and consistently have access to food and excellent health care. I think it’s important to share these privileges and help others. I had always known that malnutrition was prevalent in many Sub-Saharan countries, so that peaked my interest in malnutrition project. What I didn’t realize until researching background information on Sierra Leone is that the median age in the country is only 19 years old. Twenty-five percent of children do not reach their fifth birthday because of malnutrition and illnesses related to it. I was at a loss for words when I heard these statistics. Work has been done by many NGOs and government organizations, but nothing has stuck. If we can make even just a dent in this number by creating a food that provides the essential micronutrients to children, we could make a much-needed difference. I’m optimistic that our food will help in treating micronutrient deficiencies in children between 6 and 24 months old.

This project as already helped me see the bigger impact of what I’m studying, giving me more motivation to really get things done and see the potential impact of what I’m doing. Sometimes work in other classes can be tedious and it’s hard to imagine its real purpose, but this project is nothing like that. As a junior, I’m getting into the higher level bioengineering coursework where professors assign many more group assignments and projects. Working on the malnutrition team, I have learned the benefits and struggles of working on a team more than ever before because we have now been working together for an entire semester. We learned the struggles of connecting our schedules but also the benefits of working together to develop new, more creative ideas than we could have discovered individually. This teamwork experience has already helped me become a better, more efficient team member in my other classes. Finally, with the freedom of the creative inquiry process, it’s easy to procrastinate and let work slip, but by working on a project that really will have a direct impact on people, it’s made me realize the importance of facilitating ideas in an efficient and timely manner. It’s something our team didn’t really realize until the tail-end of the semester that deliverable deadlines can kind of creep up on us. With that being said, I’ve learned the importance of setting my own goals and deadlines and be proactive about the work I’m doing.

Over one billion people who need eyeglasses do not have access to them. Many of these people live in developing countries with high poverty levels and very few eye doctors and subsequently have a poorer quality of life and deteriorating health. I think it’s easy to say that we can donate money and glasses frames and use things like doctors without borders to help people, but that would only have a short term effect. In the beginning, these donations are probably necessary because of the lack of resources in these countries, but once eye doctors and treatments have been established, it would be more effective for NGOs and sponsors to educate and train people in these developing countries of the importance of protecting their eye health, and show that deteriorating eye health can lead to what would have been preventable blindness. Providing a kickstart in manufacturing and educating people to become ophthalmologists would be a longer process but could provide a long term effect on eye treatments in developing countries. Really teaching people the importance of taking care of their eyesight then teaching them ways to do so would help current and future generations make lasting changes in fighting preventative blindness.