Today I had a chat with my mentor, Dr. Rickelle Richards. She is a professor in the Nutritional Science department and I’m currently taking NDFS 424: Nutrition through the Lifecycle from her. I went in to ask her some questions I have about how I need to approach this research project.
One question was about my population. There are many different ages of Tibetans that are living in India and some have come straight from Tibet while others have been born and raised in India. My question was whether I should target the older generation that have come from Tibet rather than those who have lived their whole life in India. I want to target the older generation because I will be able to get better information on how their diet has changed since living in India. They will know what the diet was traditionally like in Tibet and how it has changed since living in India and what factors have influenced that change. Dr. Richards agreed that this would be a good idea, but her main concern is the language barrier. She is worried that the older generation who have lived in Tibet will not speak English while those who have been living in India and going to school have a better chance of knowing English. This could be a major hindrance to my study. I will need to be able to have access to a translator if this is the case. I don’t know how much it would cost to use a translator, but it is definitely going to be part of my equation.
Another question I had is how to ask Tibetans about their health. I want to know if their intake of vegetables has improved their health, but I don’t know how to ask that. Or how to measure it. It’s not like I can just take blood samples to find out if they’re anemic or protein deficient. I won’t have access to facilities capable of doing this. Dr. Richards suggested that I simply ask how their health has been since they’ve been living in India. This confused me momentarily because it’s so simple, but then I accepted the fact that I’m going to have to use what resources I have available to me. These resources are going to be the Tibetan people and what they tell me. I’m going to need to trust them. Another thing I could do is research children’s health in Tibet and hopefully find some growth charts. Then I could take measurements of the Tibetan children in India and compare them the charts I found. Again, this poses a problem because I have very limited resources. I’m going to go with the first suggestion and simply ask people how their health has been affected by living in India.
My biggest question was concerning the type of study I should perform. I previously thought that I should simply sit back and observe the Tibetans around me and see what they eat as well as conduct a lot of interviews. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about participating in the culture and the food experience. Dr. Richards suggested that I could do a more formal study where I have a survey and I ask a lot of people to fill it out or I could do a more observational study while participating. After thinking about it (and discussing it with Dr. Richards) I’ve decided I’d like to do an observational study while trying to participate as much as I can; participation defined as becoming immersed in the culture and experiencing food with my family and others by eating, preparing, shopping, etc. I would like to focus on five or six families and observe them. I would like to find out how they acquire their food, whether it be at a market, restaurant, etc. From there I’d like to know what their kitchen/preparation area is like. What kinds of preparations does it take to make the foods they eat? Another question is on their meal dynamics. Do they eat as a family? If so, do some members eat before others? I could observe all these aspects by completely immersing myself in their culture and hopefully be a part of the food planning, shopping, preparation, and eating.
Now that I have this brilliant idea, how am I going to implement it?? Now that’s where the uncertainty lies. I don’t know how I’m going to find these families that I’ll observe. Hopefully, when I get to McLeod Ganj I can meet people and they can help me find other people to study. Also, hopefully people will want to let me observe them. I’m praying that I don’t find too much opposition. I’ll be working on figuring this out for the rest of the semester.
So as of now my research topic looks like this: I wish to study how living in India has affected Tibetans vegetable intake. From that I want to know how their health has been affected (by living in India and eating more or less vegetables). To do this I hope to be able to observe five or six Tibetan families who have immigrated from Tibet and lived in India for quite some time. I hope that I can plan meals, shop, cook, and eat with them so I experience what it’s really like to eat like a Tibetan refugee in India.