Below are bios of our team at the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University. If you are interested in joining or collaborating our team, please reach out to us via the Contact page of this website.
- Principal Investigators
- Communications and Outreach
- Research Associations
- Current Students
- Affiliated Scholars
My research, teaching, and outreach interests are at the intersection of the ecological, cultural, and health aspects of food systems with a focus on food security and food environments in health disparate communities. For the past 13 years, I have carried out transdisciplinary food systems research in a range of ecological and cultural contexts in China, India, Morocco, Venezuela, Belize, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. Since joining the faculty of Montana State University in Fall 2013, I jointly initiated The Food and Health Lab in collaboration with Dr. Carmen Byker Shanks with the objective to carry out and provide training on basic, behavioral, and applied research to explore agricultural-nutrition-health linkages. As the Principle Investigator of the Agroecology and Phytochemistry Group of the Food and Health Lab, I am particularly interested in identifying the socio-ecological determinants of environmental and human wellbeing in the food system. This work involves quantifying the influence of environmental factors and agricultural practices on ecosystem services, food quality, food access, and diets in the context of global change. The ultimate translational goal of this work is to develop evidence-based plans to promote biodiversity in agricultural systems and mitigate risk of food insecurity and diet-related chronic disease towards promoting sustainable food systems.
The theories and methods driving my transdisciplinary research draw from training in chemical ecology and clinical nutrition (NIH TEACRS postdoctoral research at Tufts University); biology, plant sciences, and phytochemistry (PhD at the City University of New York and the New York Botanical Garden); cultural anthropology and ethnobotany (MSc from the University of Kent at Canterbury); and economics (BA from Barnard College). The analytical methods that I utilize include: phytochemical profiling of bioactive food components (using High Performance Liquid Chromatography); bioactivity analysis (reagent, cell, and animal based assays); quantification of disease biomarkers in human serum (oxidative stress and inflammation); genetic analysis (molecular markers); biodiversity inventories; botanical identification; structured surveys, interviews and focus groups; observational food environment surveys; sensory analyses of foods and botanicals; and dietary diversity assessments.
Carmen Byker Shanks
My research investigates linkages between human health, dietary intake, food security, and food environments. I joined the faculty of Montana State University in Fall 2011. I jointly initiated The Food and Health Lab in Fall 2013 in collaboration with Dr. Selena Ahmed to carry out basic, behavioral, and applied research that explores agricultural-nutrition-health linkages. I lead the Human Nutrition and Behavior Research Group of the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University.
Food is an essential component of life and livelihoods everywhere. However, food patterns vary across the globe. Diets are shaped by a myriad of factors that influence the foods people can and do eat. Dietary practices present important implications for the health and development of individuals as well as groups. Therefore, I partner with researchers, students, stakeholders, and communities to measure and implement contextually specific strategies and tools that facilitate dietary change and positive health outcomes.
I address the nutritional needs of communities through direct collaboration and the use of nutrient analysis tools, surveying, sensory testing, food environment instruments, food weighing, plate waste, mapping, inventories, and qualitative data collection. My current research contributes to understanding the factors that influence dietary quality, nutrition behaviors, food security, and human health and development in three applied areas: (1) child nutrition in the school food environment, (2) family decisions in the consumer food environment, and (3) food assistance programs’ contributions to child and family nutrition.
Dr. Byker Shanks' research program aims to increase dietary quality of diverse populations while contributing to healthier food environments and systems, decreasing health disparities and nutrition-related diseases, and promoting positive human health and development throughout the course of life. Dr. Byker Shanks holds a BS in Dietetics and PhD in Behavioral and Community Science from Virginia Tech.
Communications and Outreach
Justin manages a diverse multimedia portfolio to effectively and engagingly translate key messages to both academic and non-academic audiences to represent the mission, vision, and activities of the Food and Health Lab on a volunteer and project-specific basis. Currently a PhD candidate in Science and Technology Studies (STS) at Virginia Tech, Justin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies (Loyola University Chicago, 2003), Master of Urban and Regional Planning, as well as a Master of Arts in English (both Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009). Before beginning his dissertation project, Justin conducted research focused on childhood obesity, food security, and food access. In partnership with the American Planning Association Planning and Community Health Center, he conducted a nationwide review of planning documents, evaluation of practices, and survey of key stakeholders to understand the relationship between urban planning and food access. Throughout all stages of his interdisciplinary academic background, Justin investigated the importance of cultivating critical understandings of how technology shapes interpersonal interactions.
Please contact Justin regarding press inquires, interviews, speaking engagements, or other activities featuring the Food and Health Lab or its affiliates.
Research Associates and Affiliated Scholars
Janet Gamble is a Registered Dietitian who also has her Masters in Teaching. She is an instructor within the Department of Health and Human Development (Food and Nutrition) where she teaches courses such as Basic Human Nutrition, Food Science, Nutrition and Society, Micronutrient Metabolism, and Culinary Marketing. Her backgrounds in both education and nutrition have helped shape her interests in research, pedagogy, food security, sustainable food systems, and cultural competency in foods and nutrition. Janet joins The Food and Health Lab as a Research Associate where she is assisting with various aspects of the Beef to School Project.
Bailey is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Behavioral and Community Science through Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Her research interests specific to public health nutrition focus on the relationship of the consumer food environment to diet-related non-communicable diseases in rural populations. Her current studies and research pursuits incorporate behavioral economic principles to inform the suitability and feasibility of sustainable nutrition interventions aiming to reduce and prevent obesity in the food-retail environment.
Bailey completed a dietetic internship through Iowa State University’s Nationwide program and is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. In 2010 Bailey received her BS degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, where from she traveled to rural Alaska, Wyoming, and Montana to work in the food service industry. She graduated with her MS degree in 2015 from MSU’s Sustainable Food Systems degree program, where she was affiliated with FAHL as a Research Project Coordinator in addition to instructing a Food Fundamentals Laboratory.
Debra Kraner is the Lab Manager and a Research Associate of the Food and Health Lab. Her primary research question is exploring how producers can grow medicinal herbs in a commercial and economically viable setting that also have a functional quality that is comparable to plants that are grown in the wild. Further investigation of this topic will help to solve the problem of many plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine being over-harvested in the wild. Currently her research has primarily focused on soil quality manipulations. In future greenhouse trials, she hopes to expand into water, and intercropping variables. She is also interested in exploring how post-harvest processing methods of medicinal herbs effect the overall potency and which methods are viable in matters of time, monetary, and quality. Her research has currently been funded through the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), and both the Undergraduate Scholar’s Program (USP) and the McNair Scholar’s Program at MSU.
Within the Food and Health Lab, Debra focuses primarily on phytochemical analysis of tea, maple sap, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and other botanical materials. She also works in collaboration with fellow associates of the FAHL in helping to promote healthy lifestyle choices and evaluating current food sources in reservation communities in Montana. She has also accepted as a visiting scholar with Minzu University in Beijing, China to study indigenous cultures and their relationship with medicinal plants.
Debra is currently a junior in the Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems program at Montana State University and completing her minor in China Studies. She previously holds an Associate’s Degree of Applied Science (Biology Concentration) from Lewis and Clark Community College (Godfrey, Illinois). She plans on attending graduate school to study Traditional Chinese Medicine. Her future plans include practicing Chinese Medicine and growing/self-processing the medicinal herbs used in her practice.
Dr. Teresa Smith is a Research Scientist at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, a non-profit nutrition research organization in Omaha, NE. Prior to her role at the Center, she earned her Doctor of Philosophy in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Research from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Dr. Smith’s research expertise lies in the environmental, social, and individual determinants of dietary behaviors as they relate to obesity prevention and cancer risk. This includes, but is not limited to cultural and familial influences on individual dietary behaviors, healthy foods access and availability, issues of food insecurity, and dietary measurement and analysis. Prior to joining the Center, Dr. Smith earned a BS in Education and Human Sciences and MS in Nutrition and Health Sciences from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Dr. Smith is also an active member of the Society of Behavioral Medicine.
Current Graduate Students
Madeline Kelly is a second year graduate student in the Sustainable Food Systems program at Montana State University. She received her undergraduate degree in the Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems program at MSU. Madeline is a musician and scholar of sustainable food systems. Her masters project integrates her passion for music and food systems through a transdisciplinary project on developing curriculum on strategies for reducing food waste. This curriculum includes an illustrated book and music compilation.
Allison Milodragovich is a second year graduate student in the Sustainable Food Systems program at Montana State University. Her background is in environmental sciences with a focus on conservation in the agricultural landscape. She graduated from Montana State University with a BS in Land Rehabilitation in 2010. For five years, Allison worked alongside agricultural producers in Montana on their private land to implement conservation practices through a USDA agency. She returns to school in hopes of learning how to increase the interaction of people, their environment, and their food. Current research study focuses on preschool nutrition education impacts on food waste.
Candace Moyer is a second year MS student in the Sustainable Food Systems program at Montana State University. Her interests include beneficial policies for sustainable fruit and vegetable production, regional food security issues, and incorporating nutrient dense, indigenous plant varieties into local food systems. She graduated from Montana State University with a BS in Sustainable Food Systems in 2010. Her experience includes assisting with price reports for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the installation of an organic vegetable system for a working ranch in Montana, and Assistant to marketing Towne’s Harvest Garden and Gallatin Valley Food Truck harvests. Candace also served as Event Coordinator for the MSU Friends of Local Foods student group, a greeter for the Bozeman Symphony, and has assisted with speaker demonstrations and merchandizing for the annual Rocky Mountain Gardening Live events. Her research interests include examining barriers and incentives for fruit and vegetable production in the northeastern United States.
Deepak Sharma is a final year MS student in the College of Engineering at Montana State University. He is passionate about applying science and technology to improving lives. His course work in Chemical Engineering, internship experiences at a dairy industry, and research in the Food and Health Lab have developed his working knowledge of various chemical applications, food and nutrition as well as sustainability. Deepak supports several projects in the Food and Health Lab including plant vitality and antioxidant analysis of tea, maple, and fruit and vegetable samples.
Erin Smith is a first year graduate student in the Sustainable Food Systems program. She received her BS from the University of Arizona in Environmental Science, with a focus in sustainable land and water management. Erin spent two and a half years implementing food waste reduction initiatives in Tucson, AZ, by working for the university's food waste composting organization. She continues to advocate for sustainable waste management through her involvement as a graduate student representative for the Campus Sustainability Advisory Council at MSU. Currently, Erin is a research assistant for the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University. She is interested in food environment research, sustainable agricultural practices, and food waste reduction strategies.
Leah is a first year graduate student in the Sustainable Food Systems program. She is a native of Colorado. Leah earned her BS in Biology with concentrations in Anatomy and Behavior from Colorado State University. She also received a Degree of Culinary Arts in Sustainable Foods from The Escoffier School in Boulder, Colorado. Her previous experience is in veterinary clinics both for domestic and exotic animals with a focus on nutrition. She also has experience working in a Denver's Top 5 restaurant learning how to properly access and prepare sustainable foods for the public. Her research interests include sustainable farming techniques, food animal nutrition and chronic diseases. Currently, she is using her research interests to increase the confidence of Montana State students when procuring and preparing meals. She hopes to provide students with training in culinary skills to increased mindful eating. She is also working in conjunction with MSU to increase access to food for students in the dining halls with restrictive diets.
Elizabeth is a first year graduate student in the Sustainable Food Systems program. She grew up in Castle Rock, Colorado and then moved to Bozeman, Montana to get her Bachelors Degree. She graduated with a degree in Agroecology in the Spring of 2016. Her research interests include behavioral economics and how they apply to human nutrition choices, biofortification of crops, and local food systems.
Current Undergraduate Students