Food science major travels around the world to combat hunger issues

By Krista Morehouse

Food science major travels around the world to combat hunger issues 

Photo provided by Molly McKneight
Molly McKneight (second from right) poses with children during a study abroad opportunity in Haiti. The sophomore food science major is committed to working on world hunger issues.

Molly McKneight is only a sophomore food science major from Carmel, Ind., but she already has plenty of international experience. And she is focusing her attention on world hunger issues.

“I am fascinated with the interaction between people, food and science,” said McKneight.

That fascination comes from her passion to reduce world hunger. Her commitment to finding solutions has taken her to Turkey and Haiti, and she even planned a trip to Mali before government unrest there canceled those plans. In just a two short years, her experiences and studies have helped her focus on improving the lives of people around the world.

As a freshman, McKneight traveled to Ankara, Turkey, to work at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

“Turkey was really my first experience with agriculture and working with international scientists,” said McKneight. “It helped me realized how science could be used to change world hunger.”

In Turkey, McKneight’s research helped her identify her passion in the fight against world hunger.

“I like agriculture research because it involves what I love — science — and it has direct, purposeful applications,” she said.

Looking for those practical applications took McKneight to Haiti, where she learned about animals and food security.

“Going to Haiti helped me realize the complexity of food security issues,” she said. “I have done a lot of writing and research on developing countries, and going to Haiti made all the situations I wrote about come to life.”

In Haiti she saw the different lifestyles of people who live in developing countries. Those observations made her realize just how complex world hunger issues are.

“I realized real-world problems are complicated and require multifaceted solutions,” said McKneight.

McKneight’s passion for agriculture and world hunger began in high school after she watched a documentary about Swaziland, a small landlocked country in southern Africa. According to the movie, Swaziland had some of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world, and McKneight began to ponder solutions that might begin to fix this seemingly hopeless situation.

After McKneight traveled to Haiti, she realized food insecurity and other issues, such as AIDS, are often linked.

“Sexual services in exchange for money or food are common means of coping with hard times,” said McKneight. “Also, AIDS drugs are not fully effective if patients are not well fed.”

“I learned that when parents in the country die of AIDS, their teenage children usually take care of their siblings,” said McKneight. “Often, they can’t earn a solid income, so they resort to prostitution to feed their families, further contributing to the vicious AIDS cycle.”

Last summer, she had planned to travel to Mali to continue her work against hunger. But in March, a military junta ousted Mali’s president and civil unrest followed.

“I was extremely disappointed at first, and sad for the country,” said McKneight.

Although she isn’t going to Mali, she isn’t giving up her dream of reducing world hunger.

She states her goal simply: “To be persistent in my work and passion to fight for the right for food for all people.”

Find out more

Purdue Food Science
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center ​​​​