Kennesaw State research team receives federal grant for artisanal alcohol research

KENNESAW, Ga. | Apr 25, 2023

Photo of Brandon Lundy
Brandon D. Lundy
Four Kennesaw State faculty members have been awarded a National Science Foundation grant for more than $313,000 to study the economic, cultural, historical and health significance of artisanal alcohol production in a small island nation in West Africa.

The research team is made of up of principal investigator Brandon D. Lundy, interim chair of the Department of Geography and Anthropology, and co-investigators Monica Swahn, dean of the Wellstar College of Health and Human Services and geography and geospatial sciences professors Mark Patterson and Nancy Hoalst-Pullen.

“What helped inspire this research was my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cabo Verde from 1999 to 2001. Living in a small farming community in the mountains, I witnessed firsthand the value assigned to grogue by the community where I was living and working,” said Lundy, a professor of anthropology. “I want to go back and better understand these artisanal producers, their communities, and the impacts grogue has on their everyday lives. We anticipate that nationalized rural products like grogue could help rejuvenate the countryside where they’re made. But this is a double-edged sword since too much alcohol can mean an increase in consumption and abuse.” 

Lundy added, “Though products like grogue are made in other places across the world, understanding the importance assigned to locally sourced and locally produced spirits provides worthwhile cultural insights to a place and its people.”

Over the three-year study, the team aims to document, through written and visual media, the production of Cabo Verde’s national liquor, grogue (pronounced “grog”), as well as its uses for recreation, tradition, celebration and remembrance. The team will also study sustainability of the production of the moonshine-like alcohol produced by fermenting sugar cane and distilling the product; how local governments are working to regulate or invest in the industry; create maps of distilling locations, farms and consumption locations; understand the history of how the alcohol production came to specific communities in the West African island nation; and produce research products that can be scaled and used in other regions of the world where grogue or similar products are known.

The researchers plan to focus on grogue production in its first year of study, distribution and social networks in the second, and aspects of consumption in the final year, Lundy said. Each researcher comes well-equipped for the study, as they all have unique expertise in alcohol research in different disciplines, he said. 

“The intent of this project is to really understand a specialized type of alcohol that, in this context, we consider a cultural asset and valuable to the community and people who produce it. And it has been valuable to this community for hundreds of years,” he said. “We want to understand it as deeply as we can. That’s why we have a team with such varied knowledge and expertise, and it’s exciting to be able to say we have all those experts in-house at KSU.”

Photo of Nancy Hoalst-Pullen, Mark Patterson, Brandon Lundy, and Monica Swahn in classroom
L to R: Nancy Hoalst-Pullen, Mark Patterson, Brandon D. Lundy, Monica Swahn

Swahn, an alcohol epidemiologist, has traveled the world for her research, and much of that travel time has been spent in African nations. Swahn’s expertise in everything from alcohol use disorders to access to addiction treatment will help the team understand the potential dangers and health impacts of a valuable cultural product, which doubles as a largely unregulated drug.

“From a health perspective, alcohol is about harm. I look at risks including what people do while they’re drinking, the long-term effects of drinking — whether that’s cancers or injuries or violence or sexually transmitted infections — and other risks or interventions,” Swahn said. “What I like about this research is that I’m able to bring a health lens, and hopefully education, that may not be well-established in these communities as part of a project that looks at a very deeply rooted cultural phenomenon.”

Swahn said the size of the NSF grant makes it clear the research is valued as a “highly meritorious project with significant value,” and that the KSU team has developed a plan to complete thorough and impactful scholarship.

Patterson and Hoalst-Pullen, who earned the title, “beer doctors,” based on their long history of beer scholarship, will contribute their expertise both in alcohol and in geographic information system mapping. The pair have worked together for years and are most widely known for their book, “Atlas of Beer: A Globe-Trotting Journey Through the World of Beer,” published in collaboration with National Geographic.

Patterson is developing an iPad app that will display a map of the study area and will allow users and locals to draw with their fingers to highlight research or community landmarks. It will also allow recording of interviews with geolocation and timestamp data, he said.

“I hope that we can create a methodology to replicate in other places. I’d like to see us be able to take this model and apply it to Senegal or countries in Asia or Latin America where similar alcohol production with these cultural implications also takes place,” he said. 

Hoalst-Pullen will contribute community mapping, data collection and photo and video documentation. 

“I think our research shows that a lot of questions are and should be very interdisciplinary and need a lot of individuals with various skillsets to properly answer those questions,” she said. “It’s great that we were able to find four of those people at the same university, especially when this is research for which we don’t already have a lot of information.”

Lundy also said his team hopes to involve undergraduate and graduate students in travel and research in Cabo Verde, and that they will partner with University of Cabo Verde faculty and other consultants who specialize in agriculture and chemical engineering.

“I’m really excited to have this opportunity, because I think it’ll be a valuable endeavor not only for the team but those we bring into the work,” he said. 

–  By Thomas Hartwell
Photos by Darnell Wilburn

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