Time of Eating & Health!

13 Jun

I made my first science communication video! It took me only ~ 15 hours, no big deal 🙂

It won’t be as time consuming from now on..but there is a lot of work involved nevertheless: writing a good concise script, sketching all the images that could go along with it, setting up the recording (can be so tricky!), recording yourself draw (and redraw.. and redraw) every frame.. Then editing all those videos, recording the audio (and re-recording..and re-recording again), and finally matching video to audio (as well as finding some free background tunes to go along!). Check it out: 


I chose this topic because i’ve been craving to cover it for some time now. Since my dissertation work focused on lay models of healthy eating across cultures (so: people’s beliefs about what it means to eat well), I did not address the scientific accuracy of any perceptions. But oh I wanted to! And that is because one of the most fascinating findings from my interviews was that eastern European (EE) participants considered “how you eat” (i call these “eating styles”) to be more important for health than American respondents.

Eastern Europeans (EE) judged statements about EATING STYLES (such as time of eating) as more important for health…

Specifically, EE participants rated the statement “it is important to avoid eating late in the day” significantly higher than Americans (and this was true from my past survey-based studies!).

This is what the image below shows, but let me explain the method behind it: I conducted >70 interviews in the U.S., Romania, and Ukraine where I asked people to look at 42 different statements about “healthy eating”. Among other activities, they had to indicate how much they personally agreed with each statement (from “4” agree completely to “-4” disagree completely; I used Q Methodology for this, by the way ).

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So, between Americans and eastern Europeans, 1 statement about eating styles (or “context” as I referred to it in this chart) that was more important for the latter: not eating late. 

So, out of ALL 42 cards, only “avoid eating late in the day” got a statistically significantly higher agreement score from eastern Europeans. AND when prompted to explain their views, my respondents gave an explanation that was amazingly close to the actual science of circadian rhythms!!

Why did EE folks seem to know about circadian rhythms way more than Americans?

I didn’t analyze why EE folks seem to know about circadian rhythms way more than Americans, but this knowledge is something they knew from childhood.. It was part of general recommendations and “common sense” while growing up in the USSR. It fact, importance of eating styles is prominent in traditional beliefs about health (like in Japan and China).. perhaps all the focus on nutrients that’s possible with modern science is taking our attention away from this old wisdom?

perhaps all the focus on nutrients that’s possible with modern science is taking our attention away from this old wisdom

Now that nutrition science is paying increasingly more attention to eating styles as well (CHRONO-NUTRITION!), I assume American folks will begin incorporating beliefs about importance of food timing also!


24 May

Sooo it has been accomplished! I have been awarded my PhD in Global Health from Arizona State University.. It’s been a long journey from post-USSR Ukraine to receiving one of the highest honors worldwide- a Doctor of Philosophy degree from a such a fantastic and innovative American institution as ASU!!

This summer I will be working with the Risk Innovation Lab at ASU on publishing a couple of perspectives on science and health. I’m extremely excited about this opportunity to get into science communication and hope to post more about that soon! In the meantime, some of my other publications:


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Cognitive Differences in Healthy Eating Perceptions

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Human Food Preferences

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Evolution & Cooking



Last week at the Culture Change & Behavior lab!

27 Apr

Last week our lab held the last meeting for the semester. And to celebrate a great productive year we had… chocolate-covered insects. It’s a bizarre tradition carried over from ~1 ago when the lab studied disgust towards eating different animals 🙂

I will miss working with our fantastic undergraduate apprentices! This semester we focused on 2 projects: 1)using process tracing software to examine how much different types of information matter for making food healthiness judgments, and 2) measuring household wealth (& how it affects health) across the world.

The first project was my “baby”: after mostly survey and interview work over the past several semesters, I really wanted to try learning a new method. I both hated and loved it: the learning curve can be brutal, but once we got some preliminary results things felt worth it!
We used a process tracing software that allows you to analyze the decision making process of participants. We used this program to have people rate different foods on healthiness after checking some information about them. We gave them two types of information- positive (e.g. presence of vitamins) and negative (e.g. presence of artificial ingredients). Our pilot confirmed the hypothesis that people do in fact spend more time checking out negative information! (See chart: time/Y axis is in milliseconds)
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For the other project I spent the last 7 MONTHS harmonizing and cataloguing the many assets and services used to assess household wealth in low-income countries. The main question for this project is to examine how economic inequalities shape global health outcomes (e.g. obesity in adults and child growth) and to test whether different pathways to wealth might shape these things differently. I’m happy to announce that we in fact DID finish all the data harmonization and merging (it was no spring picnic) and the lab will now begin analyzing the data and examining different dimensions of wealth.

Uhh I will miss this amazing team for sure.. but hey- in about a week I graduate! What a strange feeling it is!

Cognition paper published!

6 Mar

Ta-da! Finally. Mine and Dr. Hruschka’s paper is finally out in the Journal of Cognition and Culture. This survey work was done over 2 years in both Eastern Europe and Southwestern U.S. So glad to see it in print!

HERE is the PDF: CognitiveDifferences_Paper2017. Also, if you don’t feel like reading it, i just recorded a 5-minute overview of the paper (recorded between meetings.. after 2 cups of coffee.. sorry if I talk quickly!).

Cooking -> Digestion & Energy Uptake (3rd article is out!)

9 Feb

Oh hey- I’ve been so busy with my dissertation defense, I didn’t even notice my third encyclopedia chapter coming out- Cooking: Increased Energy/Reduced Digestion 😀 If you can’t open the full text on the website, the PDF file is also HERE.

Short intro: Cooking food is a unique human activity spanning across all cultures, and humans appear to be evolutionarily adapted to this crucial aspect of their diet (Wrangham and Conklin-Brittain 2003). The value of cooking lies in its ability to widen the range of foods that are safe to eat (whether by making their digestion easier or neutralizing toxic compounds) as well as extract more energy from the foods ingested. Both human and animal studies illustrate that the more cooked food there is in a diet, the greater the net energy gain for the eater (Carmody and Wrangham 2009), and a diet of raw foods is energetically inadequate even when various nonthermal processing methods are employed (Koebnick et al. 1999). The effect of cooking on the energy gain from eating includes several mechanisms: increasing digestibility and thus caloric value of ingested foods, lowering the body’s energetic costs of digesting, and mounting an immune defense against food pathogens.


Passed the Defense! Oh my..

8 Feb

So.. Yesterday I defended my doctoral dissertation. I’m not sure I believe this yet, but I do think i’m not dreaming right now. Almost teared up as my committee members shook my hand and congratulated me. What a journey!


Lay Theories of Healthy Eating: Insights from Cross-Cultural Comparison

I thank my committee for all the advice and support given yesterday: Daniel Hruschka, Alexandra Brewis, and Meg Bruening. I also could not have finished all the data collection (>80 lengthy interviews!) on time on my own without my 8 apprentices. My undergraduate assistants have been quite amazing.

In terms of the bigger picture- there are so many people to thank, so many that have played key roles in my academic journey. The foundation was laid down when I was 5 years old when, despite having to go to the assigned elementary school, my grandmother and parents managed to enroll me into an English-specialized school on the other end of the city. This was right after USSR ended and Ukraine was newly independent and chaotic… Yet my family had the foresight in those rough times to send me on the ambitious path in life!

I do plan to post a short video with some results of my dissertation work soon, since many of my students and colleagues couldn’t be there. Stay tuned!




What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, January 10, 2017

10 Jan

Some great readings on the anthropology of food! I’m particularly going to enjoy the article on preserved foods in USSR 😀


A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Got items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the political changes taking place at one time? Perhaps one way to get a grip on things is to focus on just one aspect of change. You might think about sustainability and food justice in urban environments, for instance. Fabio Parasecoli has written an intriguing review of two new books on this topic right here. The books are Rositza Ilieva’s “Urban Food Planning: Seeds of Transition in the Global North” (Routledge, 2016) and Kristin Reynolds and Nevin Cohen’s “Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice Activism in New York City” (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

A team of AP reporters (Esther Htusan, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Martha Mendoza) researched and…

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