Food Innovation Center

Collaborating for a healthier, hunger-free world.

Michelle Kaiser Embraces Collaboration to Increase Food Security


FIC Member Michelle KaiserJoining the FIC was an easy decision for Michelle Kaiser, a newly appointed Assistant Professor in the College of Social Work. Kaiser had already been collaborating with FIC member Colleen Spees during her doctoral candidacy at the University of Missouri on "Food Choices and Health Status of Food Insecure Families in Central Ohio." The project (seed-funded through FIC's Initiative Program) partners FIC researchers with the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Together they are investigating ways to improve food security by understanding the relationships between food distribution from local food pantries, food preferences, culture and demographics, and health status. The project's findings will hopefully lead to answers in improving client satisfaction with food pantries and interventions to improve nutrition and health.

"I'm impressed with the innovative ideas from Mid-Ohio Foodbank," Kaiser says. "I admire how they are willing to research ways to improve or enhance services and think outside the box."

Food insecurity has become a source of increasing concern for Ohioans. Economic disparities have increased Ohioans' reliance on local food pantries. The Mid-Ohio Foodbank serves over 250,000 clients annually throughout central and southeastern Ohio and will be a critical partner for FIC collaborators.

Kaiser has been actively working to improve food security. For her dissertation, she developed a method for measuring "community food security" and is currently working with an interdisciplinary team to develop a graduate course on the topic. She is also finishing some projects from the University of Missouri, which includes a USDA food pantry and obesity project on improving food choices in northeast Missouri.

Hunger.FOOD.Health Think Tank Discussion

One of Kaiser's biggest concerns for food insecure families is potential cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a government program that provides emergency food assistance. With unemployment and poverty rates continuing to rise, Kaiser feels that funding cuts will only increase pressures for food pantries and local organizations to provide food assistance. She believes emergency food programs and faith-based groups should not be burdened with the sole responsibility of providing food. Kaiser would like to see more research focused on community-based food strategies that focus on sustainable production and distribution with an emphasis on social justice and health.

Having collaborated with FIC prior to coming to Ohio State, Kaiser knew she would be interacting with a diverse group of faculty members, staff, and students who are poised to investigate community food issues.

"The challenge is when trained in a certain perspective, it's hard to figure out your own language, acknowledge different perspectives, and use that as an asset to better grasp concepts," Kaiser says.

Kaiser quickly figured out the art of collaboration at the "Hunger.FOOD.Health Think Tank" in August. This event brought together FIC members, representatives of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, academics, nonprofit leaders, and community organizations to create the diverse array of voices and backgrounds needed to address priority issues for Ohioans facing hunger. Together, participants brainstormed questions that needed to be answered and possible action steps.

Michelle Kaiser holds up a note she wrote at the Hunger.FOOD.Health Think Tank

"Actually doing something for potential change; that's exciting. You don't see that everywhere," says Kaiser. "Through that process, you get a chance to engage in amazing conversations with ample opportunities to learn from one another."

Kaiser says her background in social work helps her be prepared for these types of conversations. Social work's ability to draw upon a variety of perspectives and ultimately make an impact in people's lives sparked Kaiser's interest in the field.

"That's how I knew social work was right for me," says Kaiser. "I think making a difference by educating future social workers and working with community partners on important and meaningful research keeps me going every day."

Kaiser may still be a new face around FIC, but her motivation to collaborate to improve food security will surely make her a familiar name among other members. Kaiser's passion for social justice and applied research combined with resources provided by the FIC are a potential recipe for making an impact on food security.

Written by Chau-Sa Dang