Alesia Maltz, PhD

Core Faculty
Department of Environmental Studies

Current Projects

I am currently engaged in two projects.

Eastern Algonquin Woodland Métis History
I would be delighted to share with students an “active history” project with the Eastern Algonquin Woodland Métis of Ontario. After meeting Chiefs Zane Bell and Yvonne Fulton when we both testified before the Bi-National Toxics Commission, we gave a talk at the University of Toronto on active history. The Métis are very interested in developing a history program in their tribe. This year, the chiefs made historic nation-to-nation agreements with 36 indigenous chiefs in Bolivia and Columbia. Chief Bell was warmly received by the presidents of both nations. I have been working with them to find ways to promote public health measures for remote indigenous populations that mitigate the health effects of mining and eradicate tuberculosis. Chief Bell, Chief Fuller and I invite you to work with us in Canada and Latin America on community health and Métis history.

Sunshine and Supplements
The relationship between food and environment is an engaging topic central to health and environmental policy. Overlooked components of this relationship are choices about food and vitamin consumption. This book examines the history of vitamins from the time of their discovery to their widespread acceptance and consumption. Their discovery led to a century of contested knowledge between groups of scientists, between the scientific and medical communities, and among environmental reformers and members of the public about the meaning and value of vitamins. This contested knowledge underscores epistemological differences between local and scientific knowledge. This history employs an epistemological framework to analyze the relationship between scientific and local knowledge, and suggests how we might build our current understanding of local foods and local knowledge.

Vitamin D deficiency takes a prominent place in this book. Although vitamins were simultaneously discovered in several countries, this book focuses on Great Britain, especially Scotland, where rickets was epidemic. When the vitamins were first discovered, it was common to find a child laborer, often hunched over a weaving loom in the slums of Glasgow, wracked with Vitamin D deficiency. Rickets, which is caused by either nutritional or environmental deficiencies, was one of the first recognized nutritional and environmental health diseases. A confluence of urban and rural environmental justice issues contributed to Vitamin D deficiency. Public health initiatives were put into place a century ago to address Vitamin D deficiency, which led directly to the creation of the public health and industrial food systems we know today.

The great grandchildren of these child weavers, often hunched over their Game Boys, are suffering from the same condition.

On the eve of the hundredth anniversary of the discovery of vitamins, it is essential to step back and consider why developed nations have had two Vitamin D deficiencies in a century, and what this ongoing public health problem suggests about scientific and public knowledge of the benefits of vitamins. It also raises a host of questions about our foods, our interactions with the environment, and what constitutes a “food environment.”