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October 19, 2022

In this series, we’re sitting down with the Swette Center-affiliated faculty to catch up on food systems, innovation, and what makes a good meal. See the rest of the series on our Food Systems Profiles page.

Read on for an interview with Sarah Martinelli, Clinical Associate Professor, College of Health Solutions at Downtown ASU. 

How did you get interested in food systems issues? 

My introduction to food systems issues was through a school food lens. I started my career as a school food dietitian. Before working in the field, I didn't quite realize that the foods that are offered in schools are not the same foods that are offered on shelves in a grocery store. There's a whole separate industry that is different from commercial food processing that includes a whole network of growers and processors that make things specifically for that market segment. That was my introduction to everything that happens behind the scenes in food production. Then I've gotten more involved in food systems through my work with the Blue Watermelon Project. The Blue Watermelon Project is a local group of chefs, farmers, nutrition educators, master gardeners, etc. Working with that group on different projects has really helped me learn a lot more about Arizona's food system. 

Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation.

The biggest project that I'm working on right now is with the Arizona Foodbanks Network. We are assessing data and information to see if people in Arizona would be willing to implement universal free meals for all in our state (that’s a school food program). In my mind, that is an important part of the food system partially because of how much money goes into running the program. Schools have the ability to dictate the product that they want and they can make more demands of producers.

In addition to that, I am working on a project that is in the development stage to submit a grant later this fall with the Community Advisory Board. The grant hopes to explore the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and the Farm to School Program to connect schools to local farmers and to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in schools. Overall, it would focus on getting Arizona farmers more directly tied into schools through those two federal programs.

What’s an innovation in the food systems world that you’re excited about? 

I don't know all the details about this specific technology, but one of my students just last week stopped me after class to talk about “clean meat”.  I know next to nothing about it but I think the idea of something of that nature seems to be very innovative. It'll probably take many years to convince consumers on a large scale to eat clean meat, but the fact that they can do it is an amazing start. 

What’s your favorite weeknight meal?

My favorite weeknight meal is probably a quinoa veggie bowl. I constantly have roasted vegetables in my fridge and I put them on top of grains, usually quinoa, with a creamy tahini sauce. I change the vegetables depending on what's on sale or what's in season. Sometimes I add protein but not always. That's my go-to and it's not too complicated.