After graduating from Wake Forest in 2015, I headed straight into a Ph.D. in biocultural anthropology at Emory University that fall. I had applied to their program with the plan of expanding upon my undergraduate research in Nepal and examining the comorbidity of food insecurity and tuberculosis. However, the summer between graduation and my Ph.D. provided time to travel, and I visited Iraqi Kurdistan for two weeks at the behest of a friend. Those two weeks completely redirected the course of my Ph.D.
While still interested in food insecurity, I began learning Kurdish and Arabic alongside my anthropology coursework to facilitate my work in Iraq. I returned the summers after my first and second years, slowly accumulating linguistic, historical, and cultural knowledge about the region through interviews with the local community and those displaced by the war with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria with funding support from my National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellow and the Carter Center.
During my year of coursework for my master’s in public health dual degree (3rd year of my Ph.D.), I finally arrived at the topic upon which my dissertation focuses. Health disparities can be transmitted across generations through fetal exposures, such as maternal and fetal malnutrition. Fetal malnutrition can translate into stunting and an increased adult risk for a variety of chronic diseases including diabetes, depression, obesity, and heart disease. Iraq’s history provides a unique situation in which to examine the consequences of fetal malnutrition on young adult chronic health and the role of food aid in buffering or perpetuating that pathway. The United Nations levied severe economic sanctions against Iraq for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In 1996, due to a global outcry at rising child mortality and a need for Iraqi oil, the United Nations created the Oil-for-Food program to allow Iraq oil sales to fund the purchase and distribution of food aid baskets to the entire Iraqi population. My project compares households with children born and after the Oil for Food program began (1994-6 v. 1997-8) to understand the consequences of the economic sanctions on young adult mental and physical chronic health. Qualitative research seeks to understand familial coping mechanisms for food insecurity, while quantitative research seeks to measure the effect of food aid on young adult mental health and anthropometric measures.
The realities of fieldwork take me to villages and small towns all over the southern half of Slemani governorate in northeastern Iraq. My research assistants and I have the privilege of visiting with families for an entire day, completing survey questions and hearing stories about how they survived the regime of Saddam Hussein and the cruelty of the UN sanctions during the 1990s. We break bread and share lunches with the families, where I record family recipes and food traditions to contextualize the role of food aid in their lives. Through sharing about my own father’s diabetes, heart disease, and farming, families then feel comfortable to tell me their own stories of how they contracted these chronic diseases and how they have navigated their health and livelihoods in the midst of war, sanctions, and political turmoil.
— Anna Grace Tribble, WFU Anthropology, Class of 2015