My last intention in writing this article is to fill the internet with more white-fragility-generated virtual signaling content. As an individual and as a company, I recognize the paradoxical nature of this article; at To Taste, most of us are young, skinny, privileged, white females. My discussing issues concerning diversity in dietetics might seem a bit problematic. But I view it just as problematic to sit by and say nothing when I can clearly see the issues that exist within my field of practice and expertise.
I am NOT an expert in race relations, social activism, or the judicial system. I will do my best to be as objective and factual as I can, but I also recognize that my experiences are not sufficient to raise voice to all of the issues that exist within this subject matter. The issues of systemic racism span far beyond my scope of practice, so for brevity’s sake, I will keep this article focused on food, nutrition, dietetics, and health. Even within these topics, there is no way to cover all of the problems that exist. At the end of this article, I have provided links to several helpful resources which can help you continue to investigate these subjects on your own.
Although this article is geared more towards health and nutrition professionals, I believe that anyone reading can gain some new insight and perspective. I hope that this article can bring increased understanding, empathy, and action on all of our parts. I wrote this article just as much for myself to learn and unlearn personally and professionally, as I wrote it for you, the reader.
Together, we will learn about existing issues, their outcomes, and then actions that we can take to ensure a healthier and more just society for all.
Where do we get our health information?
When you have a question about food, health, or nutrition, where do you seek out your information? Maybe a friend, maybe a book, but most likely, Google. Well, I had a few questions for Google too. Bear in mind that not all of these articles were written within the last year, so many of these results may be different now. However, these are the results that appeared on the first page of Google, so I therefore assume that these are the results that most other people are finding and reading too.
Who are the top health and nutrition authors?
Off the top of my head, I could list over a dozen authors, all of whom were skinny, old, white men. But I needed to confirm my findings. And with few exceptions, sure enough, in all of these lists, only one Black individual is featured.
Who evaluates the world’s best diets?
Out of 25 experts, no Black health experts are featured.
Who is on the advisory committee for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?
Out of 20 experts, only one Black male is featured.
What are the best TED talks about health?
What are the best social media nutrition accounts?
Out of these 18 accounts, no Black nutrition experts are featured.
Who are some famous dietitians?
Check out these links and behold your eyes to lists and lists of skinny white females and no Black dietitians.
Not until I searched “famous black dietitians” did I find links to Black dietitians’ social media accounts and webpages:
Although these search results are not backed by rigorous scientific study, they make it quite evident the degree to which the fields of health, food, wellness, weight loss, and nutrition are indeed whitewashed. These results make it easy to view these physicians, authors, experts, and influencers as the best and brightest. Of course, this isn’t to discredit the time and energy that these individuals and groups have invested into their work – promoting health, conducting research, saving lives, writing books, disseminating information, working in underprivileged communities, providing pro bono services, donating proceeds to charitable organizations, etc. Countless people have benefited from their efforts, including all of us at To Taste.
So does their intelligence, work, and expertise lead us to believe that Black people are inherently less intelligent or less capable? I don’t think so. But it also didn’t affirm to us that Black people are intelligent and capable.
These search results also revealed how socially ingrained and implicit my biases are. I don’t believe that I purposely or actively seek out advice or guidance from white individuals, but it is a natural result of my ignorance and bias. I recognize that in order to be anti-racist (and not just “not racist”), I must actively work to listen to, learn from, and labor with those from different backgrounds than mine.
Diversity (well, lack thereof) in Dietetics
94% of registered dietitians are females. 85% of dietitians are white; 3% of dietitians are Black (1). All of my nutrition textbooks were written by white women. All of my nutrition professors were white women. There’s never been any question that there’s a lack of diversity within our field.
As a company and as individuals, we certainly aren’t blind to issues concerning cultural and racial differences and disparities. We’ve seen it throughout our careers and internships in schools, hospitals, and communities. Despite recognizing these disparities, we admit that we were also not actively pursuing solutions to resolve these differences.
As we have listened and learned over the last several weeks in response to the increased Black Lives Matter movement, we have realized to a greater extent the necessity to use our voices to advocate for change within the field of dietetics.
During our dietetic training, we are trained to “apply the principles of cultural competence within [one’s] own practice” (2). However, this core competency doesn’t necessarily translate into creating and encouraging a more diverse field of practitioners.
There are numerous barriers that Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) face when entering the field of nutrition. High cost, unpromising return on investment, lack of exposure to the field, social stigma, weight bias, and countless other microaggressions are factors that deter BIPOC from pursuing dietetics as a career (3).
As a profession, we NEED diverse voices. We need health and nutrition professionals from diverse backgrounds so that we can collectively create better and more connected communities. Founders of Food Heaven Made Easy, dietitians Wendy Lopez and Jessica Jones said it well:
“Our communities are disproportionately affected by chronic illness, and it’s important that they see people who look like them educating them” (4).
You don’t have to look very far to realize the negative health outcomes of systemic racism. Black people disproportionately suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, stroke, and maternal mortality (5, 6). The current coronavirus outbreak highlights these disparities to a great extent, as COVID-19 is disproportionately infecting and killing Black people (7, 8).
Healthcare professionals, including dietitians, learn in school that Black people are more likely to suffer from many of these chronic diseases. But never in my training did I investigate why these individuals suffer from these diseases so greatly.
Lifestyle factors contribute far greater effects on health outcomes than genes, so to blame Black peoples’ higher rates of disease on genes alone is ignorant and myopic (9). Black people disproportionately live in poorer neighborhoods with limited access to quality education, food, and housing. Therefore, these and other social determinants of health are far more influential on their health outcomes than genes. Through lack of access to affordable healthcare, housing, and food, many do not have the resources that are necessary to promote and sustain long term health.
Pushing expensive medications, recommending rigorous diet programs, and encouraging increased exercise will do nothing to solve the root cause of Black peoples’ health problems (10). Massive action must be taken to ensure that Black people have access to jobs, communities, and resources which will allow them to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors and then actually live out those lives without fear of oppression and discrimination.
The Necessary Actions
“There is an acute need for increased attention to identifying the optimal interventions to reduce and eliminate the negative effects of racism on health” (11).
Many people in healthcare get into this field because they want to help people. Yet the existing healthcare system is full of bureaucratic procedures and policies that often do more harm than good.
“If we [are] really truly in this profession to heal and to help our communities be healthy, we need to be engaging beyond the doors of the clinic and the doors of the hospital” (12).
As healthcare professionals, we must use our professional privilege and expertise to elevate and improve Black lives.
At To Taste, we have always promised to create recipes that are affordable and accessible. Whether you shop at Whole Foods or Walmart, whether you never step a foot in the kitchen or you’re the next top chef, or whether you want flavors from Mexican, Indian, Creole, or Asian cuisines, we create our recipes with YOU in mind. Although we feel that we demonstrate cultural competence and compassion, we commit to being accountable when we fall short.
As a company, we have encouraged the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to create scholarships, paid internships, mandatory diversity and inclusion training, and educational opportunities for low-income students. We highly encourage other dietitians to do the same. This field will not change until we demand better. This work cannot fall on the backs of Black people; all of us must collectively agree to support, lift up, and amplify our Black friends, peers, colleagues, and allies.
We commit to advocating for more diverse voices at professional meetings and conferences. We will continue to advocate for students of color to have the opportunity to learn about the field of nutrition and dietetics. Additionally, we will continue to advocate for scholarships and paid internships that motivate and encourage students of color to advance in this field.
We recognize that these issues have been going on long before this most recent Black Lives Matter movement. We are learning and unlearning. Listening. Sharing our knowledge, expertise, voice, and experience when appropriate. Advocating for changes at the policy level. We are seeking opportunities to apply culturally relevant and compassionate advice, resources, and guidance. We have miles to go. But we must start somewhere.
Here are several resources to help you learn more about people, groups, and movements so that you can continue this conversation:
Equity and Iniquity: The Inedible Portions of Our Food: Article by Teresa Turner in Food & Nutrition Magazine
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Listen & Learn
Tour for Diversity in Medicine: a grassroots effort to educate, inspire, and cultivate future minority physicians and dentists
HUED: a platform that diversifies the patient/doctor connection by connecting patients (of color) with health and medical professionals (of color) that specifically understand their cultural, physical and mental needs
Soul Fire Farm: a “BIPOC-centered community farm committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system.”
NOBIAN: National Organization for Blacks in Dietetics and Nutrition
Diversify Dietetics: a community for students, professionals and educators dedicated to increasing ethnic and racial diversity in the nutrition and dietetics profession
We are always eager to receive more education, acquire new information, and hear other perspectives. We want to hear from you. What ideas or insights do you have regarding diversity in dietetics, food, nutrition, or health?
To OUR Taste,