RESEARCHING POSSIBILITIES AT THE VEGETARIAN RESOURCE GROUP: Odette Olivares Sanchez’s VRG Intern Experience

After completing my MSc thesis about Healthy and Sustainable Diets, I decided to apply for an internship position at The Vegetarian Resource Group for my required Masters internship, hoping to continue researching topics related to plant-based diets, vegetarianism, and sustainability. Although this internship was not concentrated on scientific research, I was lucky to work on two interesting research projects. The first one was related to sustainability, and the second one consisted of an evaluation of knowledge and dietary patterns of Latin American vegans.

I worked for approximately one month with Jeanne
Yacoubou, MS, the VRG Research Director, to find out about and to compare the
global methane emissions of rice and meat production. I enjoyed this project
because besides reviewing scientific literature, I was having an experience
with investigative reporting by contacting scientists to interview them about
their most recent data.

During that month, I provided Jeanne with
information. I learned that atmospheric methane has increased by more than 2.5
times since 1750, due to livestock production, rice cultivation, fossil fuels
usage, and the increasing global temperatures. According to a global methane
emissions’ estimate of 2017, livestock farming emissions accounted for 4 times
the methane emissions produced through rice cultivation. Although in the end,
my university did not approve this project (to use for my nutrition credit) it
was very exciting and interestingly challenging.

After this, I had the opportunity to work with
Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, the VRG Nutrition Advisor. Working with her was like
getting back in contact with the warmness I had left in Mexico when I moved to the Netherlands to
study.

The common topic of my projects was Latin
American vegan  foods high in calcium and
low or moderate in oxalate content, a substance that impedes calcium
absorption. First, I explored the gastronomy of Latin American countries to
identify (traditional vegan) foods high in calcium. Then, I evaluated calcium
information for vegans available on different internet sources. I constructed a
rubric to evaluate 100 Latin American websites, 50 websites in English geared
towards Latin Americans, and 30 Latin American governmental entities. Lastly, I
surveyed Latin Americans to find out about their knowledge and dietary
practices regarding vegan foods high in calcium.

After I finalized evaluating websites and
governmental entities geared for Latin American vegans regarding calcium on the
vegan diet, I realized how essential VRG activism is. Few sites had accurate
information on this topic. Also, results from the application of an
internet-based survey indicated an information gap regarding good vegan calcium
sources, at least among most of the Latin American participants from this
survey.

Working as an intern at The VRG helped me to
experience a high degree of independence and freedom to write blog-postings and
to apply my knowledge on research methodology. I also experienced a different
writing style I had not used at the university – one more related to the arts
than to the academic or scientific writing style. It is funny to compare my
first blog-posting draft, to my final outputs and notice how I evolved from
having a very boring style, to a very enthusiastic one. I hope not too much!

I am very grateful to The VRG, for allowing me to work with them and to
develop research projects. Now I am more convinced about continuing the
promotion of vegetarianism and plant-based diets to improve our lives, as well
the lives of other sentient beings, and our world.

For information about The Vegetarian Resource Group
internships, see www.vrg.org/student/index.php

Odette Olivares Sanchez is a Mexican
student about to complete her MSc in Nutrition and Health at Wageningen
University, The Netherlands.

See some of her projects at:

https://www.vrg.org/nutrition/foods_calcium.htm

https://www.vrg.org/nutrition/best_latin_american_websites.htm

https://www.vrg.org/nutshell/information_in_Spanish.htm

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