Undergraduate researcher takes on Japanese lunch program

By James Clark, August 19, 2013
    Danielle Thrasher spent nearly two months in Japan studying a school lunch program. She says the work, supported by an Undergraduate Student Research Award grant, has helped improve her level of confidence in performing research.

It has been a summer filled with lunches for Danielle Thrasher.

Thrasher, who recently graduated from McMaster’s Department of Anthropology, spent June and part of July studying Japan’s national school lunch program as part of her Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) research project.

The project involved interviewing teachers, principals, dieticians and parents in the Japanese city of Utsonomiya.

"I already knew they had a successful program based on my research," says Thrasher. "I just wanted to see how they carried the program out and what it means for childhood nutrition, health and food security."

Thrasher used a portion of the $6,000 she received as a recipient of her USRA to cover travel costs. She stayed with friends she made while teaching English to Japanese kindergarten students between 2007 and 2008.

These same contacts also provided her with access to school representatives who introduced her to her interview subjects.

Thrasher says speaking with parents and teachers gave her a unique insight into the national school program, which involves teaching children where their food comes from, how food is prepared and the importance of maintaining a balanced diet.

"The program also instills manners and an appreciation of food," says Thrasher, noting students even take turns helping serve the lunches, which cost around $2.50 per person.

Thrasher’s research will be combined with a similar research project her supervisor, associate professor Tina Moffat conducted in France over the summer. Their findings will be presented at the annual American Anthropological Association meeting the annual Canadian Association of Physical Anthropology meeting, both happening this fall.

Thrasher says working with Moffatt was an experience that will help her as she begins pursuing her master’s degree at the University of British Columbia.

Last summer, Thrasher used a USRA grant to study the representations of indigenous peoples in popular culture between 1980 and 2011. She also recently co-directed the student documentary film Replanting Our Roots, which focuses on contemporary aboriginal culture.

"I feel so lucky to have been able to complete two USRA projects," says Thrasher. "These awards allowed me to focus on areas that really interest me and have really helped improve my level of confidence when it comes to research."