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Major Insight Episode 26 Connecting the Dots Between Nutrition and Sustainability

Olivia Ferrazza

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Olivia Ferrazza seamlessly connects her interests in nutrition, food insecurity, and environmental sustainability. But it didn’t happen overnight. Olivia began college on a very different path before she learned how to put all the pieces together.

As a nutrition major, and a food systems & food studies co-major, she is now the co-president of Leaders of Environmental Awareness and Protection, and she serves on the Student Sustainability Committee with other green campus org presidents. On this episode, she also talks about the value of having an open mind, and why students shouldn’t stress about finding their place and purpose right away.

Featured Majors:

Nutrition, Food Studies and Food Systems

Featured Organizations or Internships:

  • Leaders of Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP)
  • Environmental Awareness Program
  • GIVE Miami Chapter
  • Eco-Reps
  • Social Innovation Weekend

Career Clusters:

Health and Science

Music: “Only Knows” by Broke For Free

Read the transcript

James Loy:

Major Insight is a production of Miami University. This is where we showcase successful students, their promising new research and its relevance in our world.

 

Olivia Ferrazza has found a way to seamlessly connect her interests in human nutrition, food insecurity, and environmental sustainability. But it didn’t happen overnight. Olivia began college on a very different path before she learned how to put all the pieces together.

 

As a Nutrition major, and a Food Systems & Food Studies co-major, she is now the co-president of the Leaders of Environmental Awareness and Protection organization. She also serves on the Student Sustainability Committee with the presidents of other green campus organizations.

 

And on this episode, she also talks about the value of having an open mind, and why you shouldn’t stress too much about finding your place and purpose on campus right away.

 

Now here’s Major Insight Host Peter Everett and Olivia Ferrazza with more.

 

(Music)

Petter Everett:

Welcome to Major Insight. I'm so excited to have you. Why don't you just introduce yourself for everybody listening.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Awesome. Thank you for having me. My name is Olivia Ferrazza. I am a junior dietetic major, so nutrition with a co-major in food studies and food systems, which is food sustainability. And I'm also an RA here.

Petter Everett:

That's a very intricately designed major, minor program. What led you to that place here at Miami? Did you start out wanting that major or not?

Olivia Ferrazza:

When I was, rewind all the way back to being a senior in high school, I marked down a psychology major for what I wanted to be. And Welcome Weekend I actually decided to change my major. So between applying to Miami and actually stepping foot on campus, I decided that I wanted to do nutrition and it wasn't really a black and white decision, I wasn't super sure of myself. But I knew that the idea of doing further education in psychology or even doing a career in psychology wasn't really exciting for me, but the possibilities with the nutrition were. And so my first whole semester, I actually still took psychology courses because I was enrolled in them and I loved them. But I still had that feeling of, ah this isn't completely right. I'm not super passionate about this. And the next semester I started taking nutrition courses and I loved it.

Olivia Ferrazza:

I was really excited and passionate about it and I wanted to do all the extra things. And I feel that was the tiny difference between knowing that I wanted to do nutrition. And I have a lot of different passions. Nutrition was definitely one of them, but even in high school, I was really passionate about sustainability. And so I … a new co-major opened up that was food sustainability, which I didn't even know existed. I didn't know those dots could connect. And so I jumped right on it. There's not a lot of people in the co-major. I was one of the first to actually join, but I'm so glad I did because it fit two passions that I have. And of course as a human you have so many passions but it was really cool to have two passions that I really, really loved connect like puzzle pieces. And I've been in the co-major ever since. I've loved it. And it really is a cool way to know what's best for the human body, but also what's best for the planet and how those two can align.

Petter Everett:

So what does food systems mean exactly and how exactly does that connect to sustainability?

Olivia Ferrazza:

Essentially plants, anything that we eat, not just plants, animals. They start somewhere, whether it's a farm, a plant farm, agricultural farm, both. Doesn't matter. To get from the farm to your mouth, it goes through an entire system. So that's the food system aspect of it. So the growing of the plants or the animals or whatnot, the harvesting of those things, the packaging in them, the food safety within that. And then how does it get from the farm to your fork? Which there's a lot of different ways that can happen and what's the most sustainable way to do that? It's a great question. And it's a complicated one and that's why people study it because it's really important now more than ever to understand the sustainability of something like food, which is something that we all consume and do daily and has a really big impact on our environment.

Petter Everett:

Is there any specific food product that you've studied or studied that logistical path from the farm all the way into the grocery stores?

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yeah. I have done really cool studies on the cultural backgrounds of things like hummus, which is really cool. So I get to do that in my major.

Petter Everett:

So you're incorporating history, more of an anthropological type of approach, maybe?

Olivia Ferrazza:

It's really all of it, it's not just science. Even though nutrition and sustainability is largely a science, you also have to understand cultural impacts of things. It's really important, especially if you want a sustainable intervention or anything like that -- a solution you're making -- to stick. It has to be culturally-

Petter Everett:

Appropriate.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yeah, appropriate. Culturally appropriate

Petter Everett:

Something that that people group will accept.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yes.

Petter Everett:

Like okay, I got you. And it just is a testament to how I think complicated this is.

Olivia Ferrazza:

So complicated.

Petter Everett:

And how many other disciplines you have to incorporate into this one.

Olivia Ferrazza:

It goes into nutrition too. There's a huge branch, not necessarily in clinical medical nutrition therapy, so people that are sick and have conditions. How do you help them with food? But thinking about counseling, like nutrition counseling. There's a huge branch that's called ancestral eating. So paying attention to what our ancestors ate to help us better inform how we should eat in a sense. So there's a huge historical component to all of it and not a philosophy major, but I taken a few philosophy courses here and I incorporate that into a lot of the ways that I think and think critically about nutrition. Even my psychology class, even though I could have viewed that as a semester wasted, oh my goodness, I learned so much about how people work and that is invaluable. When you think about nutrition, you're actually talking to people, you're helping people. So it all incorporates. There's no black and white way.

Petter Everett:

I think it takes an eager and open mind though as a student to find those connections and to bring all that stuff together. So it would be really easy to then write off a class that doesn't seem on the surface to directly relate. So how were you able to keep that open mind?

Olivia Ferrazza:

I love that question because that's something that I care a lot about. Open-mindedness to me is huge. And I think just going into whatever you're taking, whether it's a class or it's an extracurricular opportunity, whatever it is. And what could I learn from this? I even took ... my advanced writing class. Everyone has to take writing. It wasn't necessarily specific to my major and in the class you got to write a research project or whatever. So I did it specific to something that I really cared about that had nothing to do with nutrition, sustainable food systems. It was about the westernization of yoga. But I was just really interested in it. And I had an open mind about it. I ended up getting an award for it and I wasn't even a writing major, but it opened up my eyes to how capable I was of writing. And that's something you can definitely pull into anything, even in nutrition.

Petter Everett:

Yeah. In order to advocate for some of these sustainable solutions, you're going to be able to write well to persuade and use those rhetorical skills to tell them, "Okay, here's why it's worth it".

Olivia Ferrazza:

Absolutely. And I think especially nutrition. Sustainable food systems is certainly something that you have to be able to write well in, but nutrition, there's a lot of information out there that's pop culture or diet culture is a specific term for it. But a lot of information that's not beneficial and it's not correct. I think a lot of people know that. There's a lot of things that are sensationalized, different diets. And in order to actually make an impact as a dietician from a standpoint that's often not sensationalized. It's not like attractive. It's not like, "Here's the new diet..." often-

Petter Everett:

Lose all your weight in a month.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yeah. And me as a dietician, I'm never going to tell you that's going to happen. The information that we have, although it's science-based, is a lot less attractive. And so it's, how do you write in a way that you persuade the reader that it's actually the right choice to make and not to do the other fad diet? Which is something that we also learn about in nutrition and why people should not do them. So writing is also important, so is speaking, so is fill in the blank. A lot of things that you learn in courses that aren't specific to your major.

Petter Everett:

And as we're talking about advocacy for this stuff, I know you're a part of several student organizations, even freshman year in Peabody you were an advocate for sustainability. So how did all the stuff you're learning in class translate into that world?

Olivia Ferrazza:

Freshman year, like I said, I was confused freshman year because I was a psychology major and then I was a nutrition major. But I was also in the Living Learning Community that was sustainability. So I was all over the place. Again, I didn't know how to connect the pieces. But I remember .... that was really my first leadership role really at all, here at Miami. And I've had a lot since, but freshman year was the setup for me. I was interested in some things. Even my roommate, which I didn't look at my roommate in a... It wasn't like a business transaction. I was friends with her, but we are now co-presidents of a club. And sophomore year that wasn't the case. I actually was co-president of LEAP, Leaders of Environmental Awareness and Protection, which we like to say is like a book club without books. Because it's a very casual environment and we talk about topics each week, but it's very informal. And I wanted it to be that way because I wanted it to be approachable for people who are interested in sustainability that weren't necessarily already green thumb approved or whatever.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Because I was in Eco-Reps, amazing club, but most people in Eco-Reps are already like the sustainability gurus or whatever. But we wanted to have a club that was more for people that weren't necessarily. And to talk about real things, because I find that I learned something every time I talked to someone about sustainability. A new perspective, a new whatever. But I inherited the club from another RA that was on my staff. She graduated and I was like, "I need a co-president". And I knew exactly who to go to because I had a great roommate and other girls in the hall that are now a part of that exec team too.

Olivia Ferrazza:

And so freshman year was really a foundation builder. And I draw back to it a lot, those experiences that I have. So even when you don't think you're going anywhere making connections, you are. It all comes together. And not to be something like to write down in your journal, I need to make connections with people and like put it on your to-do list. It's just something that happens as long as you're open to learning. You don't need to be super intentional about it always.

Petter Everett:

As long as you keep that open mind, connections will come.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yes.

Petter Everett:

And keeping an open mind especially freshman year is super important to laying that foundation and really discovering who you are.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Absolutely. Obviously, set your boundaries. Boundaries are a healthy practice to have, but saying "Yes" to things. Even things that make you uncomfortable. I know ... I did social innovation weekend my sophomore year, because it was about food insecurity and social innovation weekend is like creating... It's like social entrepreneurship. I'm not a business major at all, but it's building business models to a problem. So that year it was food insecurity. And I was like, "Oh, I'll do it. It's just a weekend". Even though I was super uncomfortable, I'm not a business major. I was in Farmer. I was really intimidated and I was super nervous and it ended up being one of the best weekends I've had in Miami. Academically wise, the best. One of the best experiences I've had here.

Olivia Ferrazza:

I learned so much. I knew no one in the group. We ended up winning, which was crazy. I got to speak in front of a ton of people, a ton of panels. I've made connections to those people. And so I'd encourage people to do that. I think the theme of my time at Miami has really been like everything connecting. It's woven together some way, because there's just always something to get into. And especially if you have connections to your professors. I took a class, it was KNH 103, introduction to dietetics. And the whole class was about opportunities out there and at Miami and what you can be if you major in dietetics. And there so many options and Miami has a lot that you can step your foot into... Wait, what's the metaphor?

Petter Everett:

Dip your toe in.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Dip your toe in, yeah.

Petter Everett:

You mentioned professors there briefly. How have your professors really helped you make those connections and really shaped your experience here?

Olivia Ferrazza:

All right. A little backstory. Miami was not my first choice of colleges. Pretty much most of my family has gone here. My older sister is here currently. My mom did, my dad did. A lot of people.

Petter Everett:

So was it like a rebel thing? I'm not going to go here because everyone else went here.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yes. It was exactly that. So I applied to a lot of other colleges. I got into all the ones that I wanted to, and somehow I still ended up here. And I also really wanted to study abroad and I knew that Miami had good study abroad opportunities. And I heard that they have good professors. That they're known for their professors. But I mostly came here for study abroad opportunities, which is funny because I didn't actually end up doing a study abroad directly through Miami. It was a club on campus that has a major organization that has a chapter here, which was an incredible experience.

Petter Everett:

We'll circle back to that.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yeah. We'll circle back to that. The professors, they were right. Oh my goodness. Almost all of the nutrition professors are just great people and so invested in your success, it's mind boggling actually. All of them. And there's not a lot of nutrition professors so you get really close to all of them that are there. And I think that is a gift that nutrition has. And that's part of the reason I've had a lot of opportunities is because they know me as a person. And so they'll reach out. They're like, "Oh, you're the girl who loves sustainability and you've love all these things". And they'll send me information on that.

Petter Everett:

Any ones in particular you want to shout out?

Olivia Ferrazza:

I will name drop. Okay. Nicholas Claypool, he was awesome. He was my first sustainability professor. So he was a wesome. Jonathon Bauer is also another professor I had. They were the two in sustainability that I was just like, "You guys are awesome". And a nutrition professor Gretchen Matuszak, Dr. Miller, Dr. Wu and professor Parkinson. Those are my four. Those are my girls. Wait, they're not my girls, they're my teachers, professors. But they just have your back like no other. They're really amazing. All of them. It's just such a great community to learn in.

Petter Everett:

So you mentioned earlier that you did go somewhere and studied abroad. Where was that place and what was that experience like?

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yeah. It was another open-minded opportunity. I was walking through Armstrong and if you are a student at Miami, or if you will be a student, you'll know that a lot of people table in Armstrong, especially in non COVID times. There's always tables when you walk through upstairs or downstairs. And there was an organization called GIVE, Growth International Volunteer Excursions. They're all about sustainability in more ways than one. So environmental sustainability, but also sustainability of volunteers excursions and what that means and how to do it in a way that's ethical and all those types of things.

Olivia Ferrazza:

There's a club on campus and again was not nutrition focused at all, but I actually learned a lot about nutrition. So I went to Tanzania. It was actually my first time out of the country. We did a lot. So we worked on a permaculture plot. So there's a lot of principles to it in a way that gives back to the earth, the people. And it's designed specifically in different zones so that you can almost plant something and it upkeeps itself because it's the idea of an ecosystem and how an ecosystem is a circular loop and something that can be a permanent culture. So a lot of agriculture, you plant the seeds, you harvest them and then you have to do it again. And it was a community permaculture there. So people got to get produce from it and whatnot. We did ... we built schools out of plastic water bottles, which was interesting for me.

Petter Everett:

I'm sorry. You said you built a building out of plastic water bottles?

Olivia Ferrazza:

Plastic water bottles, yes. They're called eco bricks. You fill them with sand. We were on Zanzibar Island and it was on a beautiful beach, but there's a lot of sand. So you use what you have there-

Petter Everett:

Another part of the sustainable things?

Olivia Ferrazza:

And using the waste because they don't really have a disposal system. So a lot of us, we throw things in the trash and we don't have to think about where it goes. They do because there's nowhere for it to go. And so it was a really incredible experience. It's just a different culture. And so it's so cool. And that's a big part of being open-minded. I just think it's incredible to open your mind. Even my first semester, I was a psychology major. I took psychology across cultures and it played in perfectly to that trip, but just in life and understanding that and it all ties in.

Petter Everett:

All right. So that's awesome. Now for all of our incoming students, new students, people still looking for that passion. Do you have any final advice for them based on your college experience here?

Olivia Ferrazza:

Obviously being open-minded is big, but I would say not being afraid to explore other possibilities. So for example, say if you're coming in as a psychology major, you're like, "Oh yeah, this is definitely what I want to do". Don't lock down on that and be like, "I'm not interested in anything else" because us as humans are extremely complex and I've had many thoughts. Food sustainability was the one that I went with, but there's plenty of other things that I was like, "Ooh, Spanish, minor. Ooh. I can do writing. I'm good at that. I enjoy that". Even with the social innovation again, like, "Oh, I could do an entrepreneurship co-major" and sometimes that, possibly a minor, turns into your major or something like that.

Olivia Ferrazza:

But also I would say, don't get too worried about being like, "Oh, I have to figure it out". So many people change their major, have no idea what they're doing when they come into college and you can't plan enough for that. I feel you take a class in something that's not necessarily your major and you really like the professor or you really liked the content. And you're like, "This is a gut feeling. I'm just going to go for it".

Petter Everett:

And I will say sometimes you don't even have to pick. I have two majors, so.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yeah. Exactly.

Petter Everett:

Sometimes they can work together well.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yes.

Petter Everett:

You can find those connections.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Oh my gosh, you can find the connections all the time. I'm sitting in class and I feel like there's always connections. If I wrote them down, I'd have a book of all the times that I was in a sustainability-

Petter Everett:

Well, you're a good writer, maybe you should write a book.

Olivia Ferrazza:

Yeah. All the times I was in a sustainability class and they were talking about something in nutrition or something that I could add to the conversation that no one else could. And I think that's really cool when you feel like you have two passions and you're in the middle of them, you bring a really valuable voice to the table that everyone else in that room might not be able to. But in the other room that you're in, everyone's thinking that thing so you can add it and vice versa. So that's what's really cool.

Petter Everett:

Thank you so much Olivia for coming in today. Loved having you here.

Olivia Ferrazza:

It was a pleasure. Thank you.

(Music)

James Loy:

Olivia Ferrazza is currently a junior co-majoring in Nutrition and Food Systems & Food Studies, and she plans to pursue a career as a registered dietitian after graduation.

If you've enjoyed this episode of Major Insight, please share it with a friend, with students, or with anyone who hopes to make a powerful impact on their world. You can find more episodes wherever podcasts are found.

SHOW NOTES:

Featured Majors: 

Nutrition, Food Studies and Food Systems

Featured Organizations and Internships:

  • Leaders of Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP)
  • Environmental Awareness Program
  • GIVE Miami Chapter
  • Eco-Reps
  • Social Innovation Weekend

Faculty Shout Outs:

Gretchen Matuszak, Didactic Program Director in Dietetics, Kinesiology and Health

Beth Miller, Associate Professor of Kinesiology, Nutrition, and Health

Nancy Parkinson, Kinesiology, Nutrition, and Health Associate Clinical Lecturer

Xian Wu, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, Nutrition, and Health

Jonathon Bauer, Assistant Professor of Biology

Nick Claypool (Visiting Professor, No Longer at Miami)

Career Clusters:

Health and Science