Sabrina Simon Spotlights Chris Golden

By Sabrina Simon, 2019 Travel Scholar and Speaker Ambassador at the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting

This is a little story of how mind-opening it can be getting in touch with inspiring people.

How many of us go to meetings seeking network? And how many for inspiration? In my case, I came to the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting needing inspiration, and finding my network would become a very welcome consequence of it.

I’m an Ecologist pursuing a PhD at a Public Health institution. Despite knowing the importance of these two subjects — environment and health — I still find it pretty hard to describe my work to people. In this struggle, there are times when inspiration and community are what I need to go on sharing and building knowledge.

The 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting brought me a collection of unexpected mind-opening experiences. Among the mind-blowing lectures and meeting the most amazing people — true examples of how to change the world — meeting my mentor Dr. Chris Golden was at the top, and I’ll explain why:

Just as answering the question “What do you do?” may be a hard task for a planetary health professional, finding one’s place in this interdisciplinary world can be tough as well. That was my personal challenge until I met this incredible professional who has the same training as I do: Dr. Chris Golden, who introduced himself to me as an Epidemiologist and an Ecologist. It’s easy to imagine how excited and speechless I was upon hearing everything he has to say.

Dr. Golden is a modern naturalist, a true explorer of the world, whose work was inspired by his childhood curiosities about the natural world (please, read about his story) — that kind of story you read on books and biographies. Trained at Harvard University and University of California Berkeley, Dr. Golden studies the relationships between public health, biodiversity and conservation, and ecosystem services within local communities, specifically in Madagascar.

Hearing his stories was a major dose of inspiration. As a Brazilian girl from a simple family turned Ecologist, I’m deeply familiar with one of Dr. Golden’s biggest interests: local and native food, usually called “unconventional food plants,” and their associated feeding habits. Those plants are not only an important component of healthy dietary patterns, but also for preserving cultural identities and maintaining keeping the entire ecosystem’s balance. Put simply, unconventional food plants can relieve food security without mass-production — and by supporting the foods that local populations grow and eat naturally, we also co-beneficially support low-cost nutrition and biodiversity conservation. All of these huge positive implications of eating native food are underestimated, while epidemics of poor nutrition, hunger, and obesity prevail the world.

From just this complex example, one can imagine that being a planetary health professional requires more than technical training. To truly connect with populations in Madagascar, Dr. Golden is fluent in multiple dialects of Malagasy. His work requires love and strength — the best features of a human being — which are also how a professional can find him or herself in the planetary health world.

In conclusion, among all the great experiences I had at the PHA 2019 Meeting, Dr. Golden’s mentorship was the most inspiring gift I could get. So, thank you Planetary Health Alliance for the travel scholarship that made it possible!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Planetary Health Alliance or its members.

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