Recipes for Reform
Former fine-dining chef Julia Wolfson cooks up research for healthy change.
Knowing what’s being marinated, mixed and microwaved in America’s home kitchens is important to CLF-Lerner Fellow Julia Wolfson, MPP. Understanding how people make decisions about food, she says, could help guide food system policy changes.
As a chef in top-rated, fine-dining restaurants, Wolfson recognized the unsustainability of preparing expensive meals with ingredients from all over the world. But even when she moved to kitchens in small restaurants that worked with local farmers, it was apparent that good food was for the affluent few.
“There’s so much hunger, food insecurity, malnutrition and obesity—all health problems that stem from food,” says Wolfson, a third-year doctoral student in Health Policy and Management. “I started to think: What do I want my role to be in this system?”
She chose public health research, and her work has involved conducting focus groups with Baltimore residents to learn about how people perceive and practice cooking. Soon she will cast a wider net to gather national data with a survey.
“I think the big solutions are going to come from a systems and policy perspective,” says Wolfson. “Rather than just trying to tell people they need to cook healthy food, we need to make it easier, more affordable and more desirable.”
Ultimately, she is eager to fill a gap in research with findings that could help shape a food system that promotes health.
“Food is interesting because it’s so complex, and so much a part of our cultural and individual identities. And there are all these dimensions to food—taste preferences, industry trends, nutrition—that influence the kinds of reforms we can make.”
When Wolfson decided to transition from a professional chef to researcher, she found the specialized training that could get her there at the Bloomberg School’s Center of a Livable Future.
“The Center has been a real intellectual home for me here at Hopkins,” Wolfson says. “It’s nice to have people to talk to who really understand where I’m coming from.”