Thought for Food
Updated: Mar 18, 2022
(it’s like the metaphor “food for thought” but flipped hahaha)
TW // food restriction, dieting
A couple months ago, a video popped up on my Instagram's “For You” page (you may be laughing because it sounds a bit ridiculous and cliche Gen Z, but I promise you that this story has value). The video consisted of a woman making a bowl of food while talking. More specifically, she was talking about her experiences as a dietitian and as an Asian-American woman.
Kylie Sakaida (her Instagram handle is @nutritionbykylie) is a dietitian (MS, RD, LSN) with a large social media presence on Instagram, YouTube, and Tiktok where she posts recipes, tells stories, and shares food (and life) related advice. In this particular video, she notes that because all of her professors were White, they failed to find the value in many of the Hawaiian and Japanese foods she ate while growing up. Stating how they, “weren’t familiar with any foods besides the foods they knew which were foods like kale salad, chicken and quinoa.” Consequently, those who grew up eating just about anything else were essentially told that they, “can’t fit their cultural foods into a healthy diet.” Instead of learning and incorporating new foods into their lessons and general knowledge, these professors stuck to what they knew. The caption goes more in depth into her experiences within the field of nutrition and dietetics ten years ago, stating how, “we were taught that ethnic food, such as Chinese food and Haitian food, were high in sodium, calories, and not as healthy…” and that, “at the time, the dietitians who taught our classes described healthy eating from a Eurocentric point of perspective.” This isn’t at all surprising. From 2019-2022, about 70-80% of registered dietitians identified as White with incredibly low percentages from just about any other race or ethnicity.
All of this reminded me of my health classes growing up. I can’t quite remember at what age my classmates and I began to have those mandatory lessons, but whenever it was, we were young, impressionable, and told a countless number of diet related lies. We had assignments where we had to track every meal and I recall learning how certain exercises burned a specific number of calories. In middle school, I remember how I would go months without eating sweets (eating a LOT of salad) just because I thought it would make me swim faster. Even a couple weeks ago when I got my wisdom teeth out (ow), all the recommended foods were from one very specific place on one continent (yes - the places where White people live in Europe).
The older I got, the more I grew up and realized how harmful these structures were, especially because they had been presented to me consistently from a young age. I began to understand how those charts that tell you what amount of what foods to eat and the counting calories assignments were not always the right way to go about eating. Most importantly, I finally understood that the type of foods prescribed to me from doctors and teachers alike don’t always need to fit what I actually eat at home.
There is bias in every aspect of my life; external and internal thoughts and societal standards have woven together to create the way that I dress, speak, and act. However, it is crucial to learn how to identify when external structures have creeped into your life in harmful ways. I can’t promise that you can always change their effect on you but being able to identify their existence can lessen any harm.
The end of her caption states, “After almost a decade, I finally feel happy with my current diet because I no longer have to sacrifice my favorite cultural foods in order to feel nourished, energized, and satiated…remember that all foods fit and that you don’t have to give up your favorite foods in order to feel your best,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Krishna, Priya. “Is American Dietetics a White-Bread World? These Dietitians Think So.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Dec. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/07/dining/dietitian-diversity.html.
Rosenbloom, Cara. “Perspective | Where Are the Bok Choy or the Plantains? Why U.S. Dietitians Should Be More Culturally Aware.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 July 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/where-are-the-bok-choy-or-the-plantains-why-us-dietitians-should-be-more-culturally-aware/2019/07/22/8faa6908-9786-11e9-916d-9c61607d8190_story.html.