Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

David A. Himmelgreen


Bioculturalism, Financial Crisis, Food Crisis, Nutritional Health, Political Ecology, Roatan



This dissertation explores the associations between recent global crises in staple food prices and finance and the following aspects of life in two communities on the island of Roatàn, Islas de La Bahia (Bay Islands), Honduras: household livelihoods; food commoditization; dietary diversity; food security; and nutritional status. The aims of this study are: ) assess the geographic and economic source(s) of foods consumed by two different communities on Roatàn; b) discover how the most recent economic and food crises have affected foodways and nutrition on Roatàn; c) assess how these crises have affected economic growth of the tourism sector on Roatàn. The two study sites are the towns of West End and Punta Gorda, towns with different histories and different trajectories in the recent tourism boom on the island. West End is a small village located at the western edge of Roatàn and has experienced a steady growth in tourism since the 1980s. Tourism in Punta Gorda has grown noticeably since the cruise ships started making ports of call to the island in the early Twenty First Century.

The theoretical perspective of this study is an amalgamation of bioculturalism and political ecology, as the strengths of these two approaches are complementary. In this case, the project is biocultural in that it investigates the linkages between global and local level political economic processes, cultural traits, and biological health indicators. The project is political ecological because it addresses the intersection of the political economic and the ecological by describing changing land use and subsistence patterns in the context of a shift in the local economy to tourism based wage labor.

In terms of methodology, this project employs a mixed methods approach which triangulates qualitative and quantitative data collected through a variety of means. Participant observation, the detailed observation of and participation in social events, special occasions, work activities, and other events of daily life underpins the entire methodology. Other qualitative methods include informal interviews and semi-structured interviews. Quantitative methods include surveys to assess dietary diversity and food security and anthropometric measurements such as weight and height that serve as a baseline for calculating nutritional indices such as body mass index and body fat percentage.

Overall, the sample is split about evenly in primary household livelihoods between formal tourism work, small scale enterprise, and the category of shipping, seafood, and office work. At the community level, West End is more heavily involved in tourism work and Punta Gorda is more heavily involved in shipping, seafood, and office work. Both communities have a strong component of small scale enterprise, including artisanal fishermen, water taxi operators, and vendors of food and souvenirs.

Both communities are imbedded in a highly commoditized food system, with all households in the sample buying the majority of their food rather than growing or catching it. The two main effects of this circumstance are that dietary diversity and food security are associated with income level and that the current trend of rising food prices, which is associated with a trend of rising fuel prices, is making certain foods harder for some households to obtain.

In general, the sample has a mode of medium dietary diversity and moderate food insecurity. Significant factors influencing dietary diversity are community, occupational group, income group, and how frequently a household does artisanal fishing. Significant factors in food security include occupational group and income group.

For adult respondents, obesity is a pervasive problem and is evident in results for body mass index, body fat percentage, and waste to hip ratio, as well as in frequent discourse about diabetes and hypertension. Child measurement results show no problem with stunting or wasting and a lower prevalence of obesity than in adults.

While the nutritional picture in these two communities is not as dire as it is in many Central American examples, there is room for improvement. Recommendations stemming from this project include: communities gardens to bolster access to a more diverse diet; a cooperative based on fishing of an invasive marine species in order to control its population an provide a sustainable livelihood for artisanal fishermen; and a tourism customer service course to make local people more competitive for a wider array of tourism jobs.