Cal Poly Faculty Receives $400,000 Grant to Study Economy of Local Food

HamiltonCal Poly economics Professor Stephen Hamilton and a team of researchers recently received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the economics of local food systems.

The grant is part of the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which studies food safety, animal health, natural resources and agriculture economics to help consumers make informed decisions.

Hamilton and Arizona State University Professor Tim Richards will lead the team as it examines how stakeholders in local food supply chains — including growers, distributors and retailers — can design the local food supply network to increase value for farmers, local food economies, retailers, and consumers. The study will look at the underlying factors of successful food retailing to determine how shopping local can become an essential part of the conventional food system. The research comes as consumer studies suggest that the traditional means of shopping local, such as going to farmers markets or roadside stands, has reached a plateau.

Hamilton and his co-authors will use Nielsen data to examine trends from regional growers and retailers across the nation, especially retailers who have experienced fluctuating responses to local foods. The researchers will also conduct lab-based economic experiments to learn more about consumer behaviors shopping for local products in a supermarket setting.

The research team includes Professor Elliot Rabinovich from Arizona State University and Professor Miguel Gomez from Cornell. Hamilton plans to hire students in Cal Poly’s Master of Science in economics program to assist with the study. Funding for the two-year research program runs through 2017.

Hamilton, chair of the Economics Area in the Orfalea College of Business, has taught at Cal Poly since 2004. He has secured more than $1.5 million in federal grants for his research since 2001. Throughout the last decade, Hamilton has consulted with numerous companies on land and water-use issues and has published more than 40 peer-reviewed articles in leading journals. He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

Cal Poly Economics Professor Works with U.N. on Index for Green Economies

ZambranoCal Poly Economics Professor Eduardo Zambrano was among a team of international scholars working to develop an index the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) could use to monitor green economies.

Zambrano will return to Geneva, Switzerland, later this month to present a methodology to monitor progress toward meeting key environmental, economic and inclusiveness targets and keeping countries away from undesirable thresholds.

He will showcase the team’s methodology in action with environmental and economic data regarding natural resource productivity, access to basic services, pollution, ecosystem restoration, and wealth inequality. His team also built a dashboard of key indicators to track the sustainability of a country’s wellbeing.

The key to the measurement exercise is executing a comparison between the opportunities open to present and future generations, according to Zambrano.

“Economic growth isn’t always inclusive or sustainable; policies must therefore be implemented to ensure that the benefits are broadly shared within and across generations,” he said.

As the leading international organization for addressing environmental issues, UNEP is well positioned to play a critical role for developing green economy indicators and for working with key partner organizations to forge policy consensus and promote implementation. Zambrano was asked to join the UNEP initiative because of his work with the United Nations Development Programme, where he helped create the Gender Inequality Index and redesign the Human Development Index as a way to quantify some of the U.N.’s most pressing objectives.

Zambrano was also honored with the Orfalea College of Business Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award. He was nominated by his peers in the college for his ability to bring real-world scenarios into the classroom to engage and inspire his students.

Economics Professor Michael Marlow on Government and Obesity

Economics Professor Michael Marlow has shifted his focus in 2012, starting off the year with the publication of two papers detailing the effectiveness of government intervention in the fight against obesity in the United States. The main question at hand is whether policymakers should step in to enforce healthy decision-making when it comes to eating right and maintaining a healthy weight. Obesity is an issue that costs nearly $170 million in health spending, so Marlow investigates the impact of the fast food industry on obesity rates in the U.S. and explains why intervention efforts from Washington have proven to be unsuccessful.

In the first paper, “FAT CHANCE: An Analysis of Anti-Obesity Efforts,” Marlow and co-author Sherzod Abdukadirov critically examine whether government policymakers can improve social welfare by implementing policies designed to remedy systematic mistakes made by individuals. Such policymakers rely on the findings of behavioral economics research—a rapidly growing discipline that studies individuals’ systematic biases—to justify “nudges” or “shoves” that steer individuals toward choices more in sync with their best interests. In effect, the belief is that they can exploit individuals’ departures from rationality in ways that correct what the policymakers view as irrational individual mistakes. Marlow and Abdukadirov focus on efforts to lower obesity prevalence and argue that government intervention in individual food and lifestyle choices is often misguided and too easily justified on the assumption that elected officials are better informed than the individuals they seek to guide. In addition to taxes, interventions believed to steer individuals toward leaner bodies—and thus improved lives—include regulations requiring calorie counts on restaurant menus and vending machines; bans on children’s toys at fast food restaurants; bans on soda and unhealthy food at schools; and bans on new fast food restaurants. Marlow and Abdukadirov demonstrate that intervention is often ineffective in remedying individual failures and that, in some cases, its actions are counterproductive in producing the desired result.

In another paper, Marlow and co-author Alden F. Shiers (Economics Professor Emeritus for the Orfalea College of Business) examine the hypothesized link between obesity and fast food by examining data on all U.S. states between 2001 and 2009 in their recently published “The Relationship Between Fast Food and Obesity.” The previous literature on this issue leaves open the question of whether fast food causes weight gain, whether overeating causes fast food restaurant availability or some combination of the two. After controlling for other factors that may influence obesity prevalence, they find no support for the view that fast food is a significant causal factor behind the substantial weight gain exhibited by the US population.

To view Professor Marlow’s publications from 2011, click here.