Professor Hugo Melgar-Quinonez satisfied his first ambition, becoming a doctor, only to discover a different calling in the study of hunger and child mortality. Now, as the first Director of McGill’s Institute for Global Food Security, Professor Hugo Melgar-Quinonez has plans to put the institute on the map internationally by making it a magnet for research and action. And he wants to engage students at McGill, interested in these issues, in their very first year. Carmel Kilkenny spoke with Professor Melgar-Quinonez to find out more about his vision, and how his experience growing up in Guatemala, informs his work.
The McGill Institute for Global Food Security
was born out of the international conferences that McGill University has been organizing for 5 years now. The first was in response to the food riots caused by the spike in the price of rice in 2008. This year’s conference revisited some of the same issues, under the theme of “Food Prices and Political Instability”.
Dr. Hugo Melgar-Quinonez is familiar with both: growing up in one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, he lived with the political instability that ravaged Guatemala for 36 years. He says his father, a university professor, brought his children around the war-torn country to witness what poverty, hunger and conflict was doing. “I grew up in a household where social issues, social questions, poverty, inequality, social injustice were openly discussed even though the conditions in Guatemala were not the best for these types of discussions during the levels of repression that we suffered.” Professor Melgar-Quinonez said they were raised to ask “what their responsibility was as Guatemalan individuals?”
Out of these experiences Melgar-Quinonez realized his first ambition, going into medicine with a view to becoming a surgeon. After becoming an MD in Germany, however, an encounter with a mentor, armed with statistics on hunger and child mortality in Mozambique, resonated with his own experience. Faced with the stark contrast of life-expectancy in Germany and places like Mozambique and Guatemala, Dr. Hugo Melgar-Quinonez took a different path, moving into the study of global and public health.
Now in his pioneering position at McGill, Professor Miegar-Quinonez envisions the Institute “attracting colleagues from several disciplines working on food insecurity, colleagues in research, colleagues working in programming and planning, in different areas that have to do with tackling food insecurity and hunger.”
And his idea for a Food Security Club, will draw undergrad students with a passion for these same issues into research and action at the local level in Montreal.
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