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Ninety students in the Honors sections of the Applied Inquiry and Science (AIS) course lined the Paseo Monday, Nov. 24, to discuss their insights into the composition of the modern food industry at the Honors College Sustenance and Sustainability Expo.

“At first I thought; it’s just food, it doesn’t affect me,” said Angel Arciva, who researched corporate monopolies in the food industry. “But (in AIS), this semester we learned a whole different side of food.”

The educational goal of the sustenance and sustainability research was two-fold: applying the research and collaborative components taught in the AIS course, students would consume and relay relevant knowledge about American food and health.

Dr. Colleen Willis teaches the Honors sections of the AIS course. Willis’ three Honors AIS classes collaborated on the projects showcased at the Sustenance and Sustainability Expo.

Research partners Rachel Innocenti and Devi Singh compared organic and locally-grown food production to mainstream, industrial food production.

“I saw how much food production affects not only my internal everything, but also the environment and everyone else,” Singh said.

Exploring multiple aspects of food production, the teammates also studied ethical and quality control regulations that affect farms and the controversial concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs).

In a CAFO, animals remain confined rather than grazing and are subject to overexposure to manure, urine and dead animals. CAFOs, which crowd animals in speculative living conditions to maximize its profits, have hazardous work conditions. Innocenti and Singh also reported higher employee turnovers and more instances of personnel injuries than farms that allow their animals to graze.

“Organic and locally-grown food is more ethical than most mainstream options,” Innocenti said. “It is better for the growers, the consumers, the animals and the environment.”

Innocenti and Singh compiled a list of places for students and staff to purchase responsibly farmed and raised products in San Antonio. “This is something that we can do,” Singh said. “This list shows that making good food choices can be convenient.” The list included health food chains like Whole Foods and Sprouts as well as local farmers markets, hosted at different locations throughout the week.

Encouraging the public to make responsible food choices through research remained a common theme at the Expo. Research addressed processed sugars, genetically modified organisms, public health, food ingredients and labeling.

After selecting a research topic that informed his academic forte, biology major Mark Anthony Tobias studied the harmful strains of the Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. E. coli can live in a variety of foods, from raw cookie dough to ground beef.

“Virology research,” said Tobias, standing next to his handmade, 3-D model of E. coli, “reinforced my love for science.” Tobias’ project identified recent U.S. E. coli outbreaks in food products and the transmittal of toxin-producing strains of the bacteria.

“Hopefully people will look at this research (and) be a little more cautious about what they eat,” said Tobias. “It may even encourage them to make small but important changes — like washing fruits and vegetables before eating them.”

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