Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Dynamics (PhD)

Degree Level



Environmental Dynamics


Justin Nolan

Committee Member

Peter Ungar

Second Committee Member

Jamie Baum


Cognitive Anthropology, Marshall Islands, Urban Ethnobiology


Understanding human food choices is essential in the examination of cultural knowledge and decision-making among members of any ethnic group. Ethnographic and cognitive anthropology methods, including a novel calculation of cognitive salience, were used in this study to explore the domain of traditional Marshallese foods in Springdale, Arkansas. Springdale is home to the highest population of Marshallese people outside of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI); the population is expected to rise as people continue to migrate from the RMI because of global climate change and other factors such as family ties. Studies of traditional foodways are increasingly crucial in social science because they offer a relevant lens for examining beliefs, behaviors, and other biocultural elements binding people together. This study is the first to examine traditional Marshallese foods in the diasporic context. It is also significant from health and nutritional perspectives because Marshallese people are at high risk for diet related diseases, such as type II diabetes. Breadfruit, long a standard starchy staple of Marshallese cuisine, was discovered to be the most important and socially shared traditional Marshallese food. Although breadfruit is gaining popularity in Western markets as a healthy superfood on par with kale and açaí, it is not yet readily available for purchase in Springdale. The practice of substituting higher-Glycemic Index (GI) white rice for lower-GI breadfruit began in the RMI during the 1930s and has carried over to the Springdale community today, where 46.5% of Marshallese adults have type II diabetes (a disease associated with higher dietary GI). The fact that breadfruit has such high cultural value and salience, despite infrequent consumption, represents Marshallese concepts of dietary change and constancy. Ultimately, the results of this work serve to illustrate how human diasporic groups adapt and respond to dramatic socio-ecological changes and challenges through culturally-constructed food beliefs, preferences, and consumption patterns.