FAO in North America

FAO Field Intern Series – Shelly Johnston, from Mississippi State University to FAO Chile

Submitted by Amy McMillen on December 26, 2013

Shelly Johnston, a student from Mississippi State University, provided technical support in area of nutrition to the International Year of Quinoa activities of FAO’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago, Chile.

Welcome to Santiago – a city nestled between the great Andes Mountains and the Pacific coastline.  Chile’s capital, sometimes called the “Chilean Jungle” is known for its fiery passion and cool reserve, a combination which has inspired creativity and change throughout the region for many years.  Therefore, it is no surprise that Santiago is home to various regional and international organizations including the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Regional Office of Latin America and the Caribbean (FAO-RLC), an organization with the capacity to partner communities within the region on various levels. For over two months, I have collaborated with a talented team of individuals at FAO-RLC to promote 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa (IYQ).

The purpose of the IYQ is to promote the production and consumption of quinoa, an ancient Andean grain recognized for its nutritional balance and biodiversity, both potential factors that could impact global hunger and food security.   Additionally, this year of celebration is a platform to acknowledge the Andean people who have protected and cultivated the grain for thousands of years.

With my background in nutrition, I was assigned to work with colleagues in Santiago and Rome to highlight the nutritional value of quinoa on an international scale.  This strategy was multifaceted and included conducting research on current consumption trends within industrialized countries, reviewing and selecting recipes for the IYQ quinoa cookbook, and revising nutritional material to provide the most accurate and relevant research information on quinoa.

As a nutrition major and avid cook, I found the most satisfaction compiling the IYQ cookbook with fellow nutritionists and journalists.  This project was a perfect combination of my interests and education because I was able to translate lessons learned in the classroom at Mississippi State University into a practical application when editing recipes.    It was exciting to see the variety and originality of the recipes submitted by world-renowned chefs, but it was also fascinating to compare them to the traditional recipes from the region.  Plus, who doesn’t love reading through delicious gourmet recipes for fun?

Professionally and personally, I have gained invaluable experience through the responsibility I was granted this summer on the IYQ team.   Undergraduates rarely have the chance to work with experts in their field or make decisions on international projects. Through the FAO internship, I was able to accomplish both in a short period of time, all while submerged in an exciting new culture and environment.  Not only was I able to make connections within a global community, but I also became more knowledgeable about the structure and modus operandi of an international organization from first-hand experience.  This practicum has been life-changing for me on many levels, and I look forward to sharing my experiences (and a few quinoa recipes) with others when I return home.

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