Yes, at the half way mark – a bitter sweet place to be. Una and I have just returned from Taveuni and Vanua Levu where 5 of the villages we work with are located. Two are on Taveuni, and three, Vanua Levu. I usually come back with a bigger belly, a good story or two about mishaps and shenanigans, and calloused fingers from too much ukulele playing. Oh and a ton of data to be entered as well! There was work to be done of course.
So what does the ‘work’ part of all this entail and what might a typical day look like? Well, the first part of the answer is easy, but there is no typical day in the field, unless you simply define typical as unpredictable…
What Una and I are doing on this trip are collecting data on what people are eating. We work with a group of women who have been a part of this research since 2014, when the research first began. Specifically, I work with the food preparers, who are most often married to the farmers who’s agroforests we visit, to ask about foods they have eaten in the last 24 hours, and foods that have been consumed by anyone in the household over the last 3 months. The idea is that we will use this food consumption data and the agroforest biodiversity data to look at; 1) How much of the food people are eating comes from the farms as opposed to purchased foods or other sources; 2) Given that a more diverse diet (nutritionally diverse) should support healthier people, and more diverse agroforests (functionally diverse) should also support healthier ecosystems, do these two things coexist and if so to what degree?; 3) How does diet change with different seasons.
This was the second round of dietary data collection, the first being in the cyclone season of 2017 (January to March). So, to collect this information, we hand pick specially designed vessels, utensils and volume grids, all imported from oversees, to accurately determine the portion sizes of meals. Or, in other words, we went to the local household goods store and purchased commonly used cups, bowls, and spoons that participants could reference when asking how much of a food they ate or cooked with, and the chart was used to ask participants to describe the volume of certain foods that could not be measured otherwise.
Each interview takes three days to complete, however, the second day no questions are asked, and for a subgroup of the women, the interview is only conducted on one day. The women who we interview twice in three days are linked (marriage, caretaking, mother, etc.) to the farmers and therefore undergo the full interview process, which means they are interviewed about the foods they ate in the last 24 hours two times to capture the full diversity and quantity of foods consumed over time.
This part of the fieldwork tends to move along more quickly than the agroforest surveys since women tend to travel less than the men and there are is no trekking up the mountains to the farms, which takes about one day each. However, there is no typical day in the life for our team, except to say that it will be filled with good laughs and food. But sometimes women have to go fishing that day, or attend a school function and so Una and I wait until the women have time to sit down and devote an hour or more of their day to us, and for that we are incredibly grateful.
To get to the villages, we employ every mode of transportation: we go by foot, truck, bus, boat, and airplane. Last year we went by ferry boat from the main island, Viti Levu, to Taveuni; however this is a lengthy and exhausting overnight trip so since there was just the two of us this year, we opted to go by airplane.
After the plane ride, we hire a truck to take us and our belongings to each village. Once we had finished in Taveuni, we hopped on a small ferry over to Vanua Levu and took a 3 hour bus ride from the jetty to the main town, Savusavu. The rest of the transportation just includes more trucks, airplanes, and hikes up the mountain to find cellular service and internet signal.
Since this is a part of the research, I thought it would be fully appropriate to dedicate some time to the kinds of food eaten, which also happen to be the meals we have been eating.
As you can see, some of these foods and meals are more nutritious than others, and the reasons this is so are multifaceted and complex, a major point of my research, and so it is difficult to describe here. However, as in any place or culture, food availability, quality, quantity, origin, etc., is determined by cultural norms, environmental conditions, economic status, and so much more. Often times the food we were served was what the people who were serving us considered as the best food or the food we might most enjoy. Keeping in mind that while I might love bananas, everybody ‘knows’ that papayas are the most coveted fruit and so papaya is what we got. It is all about perception… I love both bananas and papayas though, so I don’t complain.
This week we are off to the northern side of Viti Levu to visit Nakorotubu, Ra. We have another three villages to work with up there until we finally end back in Rewa, Suva to see our last two villages. Looking forward to checking in again then when we return!