We are a team of undergraduate researchers at UCLA led by Dr. Sarah E. Tracy, investigating perceptions of the food additive MSG and the taste sensation umami in both popular and scientific discourse.
Sarah E. Tracy- Project Supervisor
Sarah E. Tracy (PhD, University of Toronto) is assistant adjunct professor with UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics & Center for the Study of Women. She is an historian of the recent past, and of the United States in the world. She uses science and technology studies, feminist, and postcolonial approaches to study sensory technologies of eating–and what people make of them. Her book project, “Delicious: A History of Monosodium Glutamate and Umami, the Fifth Taste,” traces the science, culture, and politics behind the flavor enhancer MSG. Visit: sarahetracy.com.
Amanda Abunimeh- 4th year, Human Biology & Society
Amanda was drawn to this project because the research encompasses several of her interests— toxicity, nutrition, and the social determinants of health— while furthering our overall understanding of the ways in which social and economic factors can influence science. She has a background in advocacy and grassroots nonprofit work, and is ultimately hoping to pursue a career in public health. Her work on umami and MSG centers around controversial toxicology research and debate in the academic sphere.
Tracy Lahey- 2nd year, Pre-Human Biology & Society
Tracy’s interest in public health, specifically concerning nutrition education and the dissemination of scientific findings to the greater public, aligns with this research project. She is working on how MSG has been conceptualized and understood in public discourse, the media, and more. She covers press releases, journalism,and social media platforms each offering their own take on MSG and umami. In her future, Tracy aspires to work with marginalized communities to pioneer lifestyle changes to improve the well-being of the general public.
Brigitta Szeibert- 3rd year, Human Biology & Society
As a nutrition enthusiast and future health professional, Brigitta finds the contentious role of monosodium glutamate in the human diet fascinating. Dr. Tracy’s research particularly resonates with Brigitta because it investigates modern health concerns through a historical framework of food consumption. This research allows Brigitta to explore her passion for nutrition and better understand the physical, emotional, and cultural implications of food on human life. Brigitta studies the safety of MSG with a nutritional perspective across the life course, specifically regarding prenatal and pediatric health. She also analyzes the presentation of umami in the popular culinary world.