Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access theses, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this thesis through interlibrary loan.

Theses that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Access Type

Open Access

Degree Program

Public Policy & Administration

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded

January 2008

Month Degree Awarded



Globalization, urbanization, and industrialization are continuously altering the increasingly complex relationship between humans and food. At any given time, food can raise issues regarding diet and health, risk and safety, ethics and morality, or governance and power. Universally, what we eat and how we eat it is a fundamental expression of cultural values and social relationships. Yet, the prestige given to science and risk analysis in policy justification has led to modern food policies that fail to fully grasp the multiple dimensions of food and the multiple scales of policy (i.e., local to global). This study specifically examines characteristics of the network that shapes risk assessment data collection methodologies. As minor as these methodologies may seem in the global scheme, the evidence they collect ultimately guides the policy discourse.

Approaching this analysis from an interpretive perspective, various social science methods are used to illustrate the linkages, interactions and power relations between national and international actors involved in a specific methodology – the total diet study (TDS). This research is designed to understand the influence of the TDS international collective knowledge network on how cultural and ethnic diversity in food preparation and consumption is recognized, understood and integrated into food safety research methodologies, national and global food policy, and food safety guidelines or standards.

By investigating the influence of policy institutions, management structures, and ideological frameworks on the design and implementation of TDS programs, this thesis reveals the constrained scope of expertise codifying the disregard for socio-cultural diversities of food preparation and consumption. The findings demonstrate the strong emphasis on positivist philosophies and scientific methodologies; however, vast knowledge of the socio-cultural determinants of health and food habits support the need to complement objective data with social and cultural data to fill in the gaps. A review of innovative TDS practices and the emergence of rigorous qualitative software tools demonstrate that the demand for empirical data does not have to come at the expense of the health and livelihood of ethnic subgroups. Further research on the costs associated with these alternative projects is necessary to determine their mainstream feasibility.

First Advisor

John A Hird