A big part of teaching is kvelling about one’s students: sharing pride in their accomplishments. This morning I learned that a paper with seven student co-authors was accepted for publication. Writing the paper was a genuine team effort, so I wrote a congratulatory note to the group. On reflection it might be worth sharing more widely, so here’s my message to them:

You should all be very proud of having built this thing.  It’s a big accomplishment.  We went from a standing start to gathering thread and weaving it together to a publication that describes things in genuinely new terms. The project evolved as we learned, trying to find the best ways to categorize, visualize and describe food price data.  Not to be grandiose about it, I honestly think we did a good thing here.  Research alone won’t change the world. Most people don’t know and don’t care what’s in academic journals.  Research is mainly about what we ourselves have learned, a line on your CV that serves to signal your skills and knowledge.  That’s important in itself!   But research is also what lights the way for activists and implementers, and I believe that in the coming years you’ll see more and more news about retail food prices, diet costs and affordability. Governments will gradually take responsibility for the nutritional quality of what’s in grocery stores and restaurants, they’ll try to make healthier diets affordable for all, and they’ll publish prices by food group to show that nutritious foods are within reach.  If and when that happens, I hope you can see how this project contributed to the change. 

One more thing:  in the coming months it’s possible that other researchers will cite this paper, but that’s hard to predict and recognition really matters only for self-esteem.  Out there in the real world, the most impactful research is not cited because it quickly becomes common knowledge.  I honestly believe we’re already seeing signs of that around our project.  The elements of change were already in the air, and maybe researchers at other schools would have done similar work eventually, but I hope you’ll remember how confusing things were to us before we made sense of them!  The terminology and methods we developed added something genuinely new to the conversation, and fit the moment in way that is readily grasped and used by others. 

So, thank you for everything you did together on this paper — and I wish you all similar success in your next projects!

If you’re curious about the paper, it’s called Review: Retail consumer price data reveal gaps and opportunities to monitor food systems for nutrition, part of our Food Policy for Nutrition project site. Photo of an early author team meeting is below, taken by our wonderful project administrator Hallie Perlick. You can see I was already kvelling:

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