Let’s Be Frenk: wife, supernatural abilities, favorite food

President Julio Frenk is getting to know the University of Miami through his 100 Days of Listening tour leading up to his inauguration on Jan. 29. With Frenk’s tenure having started on Sept. 1, students and faculty do not know much about Frenk besides the titles and degrees on his resume.

TMH: What is the biggest similarity between you and your wife, Dr. Felicia Knaul?

You know, it is good to have similarities, but also it is good to be complementary in our differences. The biggest similarity by far is [that] we are both very passionate about service to the community. We are very committed to issues of social justice. Actually, that’s how we met.

Felicia and I met professionally; we were colleagues before we became spouses and we met exactly working on health-related issues. She was working in the country of Colombia … her doctoral dissertation in the Department of Economics at Harvard was on street children in Bogota, Colombia, which is not a very conventional topic for a doctoral dissertation at the Department of Economics. But she was very fortunate to have as her mentor Amartya Sen, who years later won the Nobel Prize in economics, and so she was allowed to do that.

I had been invited to Colombia. Colombia had at the time an incredibly, very enlightened minister of health who unfortunately died in a tragic accident many years later, but again he had read things I had written, and he invited me because they were introducing a very important health reform, and I was invited to provide some advice, and that’s where I met Felicia. So we started collaborating, and I said we were first colleagues – and also I liked her very much from the first day I saw her – she and I worked together. So, I think the work related. We’re both very hard workers and we are both very committed to ideals of service to society and social justice.

TMH: If you could gain any ability or quality, what would it be?

I would like to be able to function with even less sleep, because I just find that being awake is a terrific experience. I don’t sleep a lot, but this is not recent, this is just my constitution. If I could get away with even less sleep, that would be an ability I would love to have, because it is stretching the waking hours.

I do not advise this to students, by the way. This is, I think, is just genetic – I just happen to require very little sleep. But there is ample evidence that sleep deprivation is a bad thing, so I am not advising this to students.

TMH: If you could eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I can tell you that right away because I know it. There is a type of cheese that is produced in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico … which is a type of cheese where you can take strands of the cheese apart. It is called Oaxaca cheese, but it comes from the Middle East like almost all cheese because I found it also in Turkey. But I could eat that cheese all my life. It is a dry, salty cheese you can produce. Shred the string cheese; that is exactly the word. So, that’s probably my single favorite food in the world.