Wednesday, March 12, 2014

National Dietitian Day - 2014 - the future is now

Another year has rolled by, and as hard as it is to believe, I have now been a Registered Dietitian (RD) for 36 years. 

If you are new to my blog (especially if you are a new or aspiring RD), you may be interested in reading the blog posts that I have written for the past National Dietitian Days (links included below). Some are quite reflective, so set aside some dedicated time and make yourself a cup of tea to enjoy while reading. They might be interesting to read from 2008 - forward. I re-read them that way last year myself!  

I confess that I think a lot about the future, the future of my profession, the future of our communities, the future of our planet, and how these all intersect. This blog post is just a very short attempt to tie these concepts together for the students who are now taking up the torch for my profession. 

I am proud of everything I have done during my career, which has spanned the spectrum of health care, from being one of the first dietitians to work in the intensive care units to now educating and feeding my community the healthy, delicious food grown on the organic farm that my husband and I established in 2009. In other words, I started my professional career at one far extreme end of health care where we worked to "salvage" our patients after some type of catastrophic event (or slow deterioration) to their health. However, after working in the ICU's for several decades, for a wide variety of reasons that I do discuss in previous blog posts, I slowly and intentionally began transitioning to the far other end of the health care spectrum to focus on wellness and health creation with organic farming, foods, and cooking. 

So, when people ask me if I have now retired from being a registered dietitian (RD) because I became a farmer, I tell them that nothing could be further from the truth! Not only do I see all organic farmers who grow food to sell locally as the true front-line health care providers in their own communities (and I am very proud to be among them in this role), as an organic farmer growing food for my community who is also a registered dietitian, I see an additional role for myself as (and ENJOY the opportunity to be) a food, cooking, and health educator, for which I have the additional education, credentials, and skill sets to do. 

Thus, I just had to smile when reading (and want to share) the following article published in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics entitled "Bringing Cooking Back: Food and Culinary Expertise as a Key to Dietitians' Future Success", the Lenna Frances Cooper Memorial Award Lecture delivered by Ellie Krieger, MS, RD, host of the Food Network's show Healthy Appetite and one of my profession's 'super-stars'. (Regrettably, it is likely that this article is not accessible by the public, but only available to AND members who have access to the on-line version of our professional journal.)

"Bringing cooking back"………..what a shame that an emphasis on cooking ever left our profession, but yes it did. It is still rare that student dietitians get extensive experience, training, and confidence for doing cooking demonstrations (I got none of this and still have a lack of confidence here).  Yes, it is past time to bring back the pleasures of cooking, to bring back the practice and pleasures of eating together again (versus the grab-n-go and/or eating solo in the car or your desk habit), to bring back the pleasure and skills for growing some of our own food (in fact, I tell my students that "we are what we grow!" is a more appropriate starting point for health than the more traditional phrase "we are what we eat").  

One line from the article stood out for me: 

"We work in nutrition and our currency is food. We have to have a passion for food if we want to be successful," Chef Todd Seyfarth, MS, RD, CSSD, the department Chair and Program Director at Johnson and Wales University

And what better way to express a love and passion for food than with an apron (versus emphasizing nutrients with a lab coat)? Ellie shows her favorite apron during this presentation and talks about how meaningful and enjoyable wearing that apron is for her. As she so eloquently states in this article (and Michael Pollan has also written about), cooking should not be just a spectator sport, and as I have written about in several previous blog posts, cooking certainly should not be viewed as drudgery. 

It's time to dedicate time to cooking, it's time to get dusted up a bit, to knead the dough, to find a little spray of fresh beet or lemon juice on your glasses, to get some dirt under your fingernails, in fact, it's time to get your apron dirty! It's also time to eat together, to express gratitude for our food and those people who grow, raise, or catch our food, and to enjoy the flavors of a delicious meal that you have prepared! 

So my wish for all RDs (and RDs2B, i.e., students and interns) on this 2014 National Registered Dietitian Day? Share your passion for food with your patients, your clients, your customers, your friends, neighbors, and relatives, indeed the world. Look around, find an opportunity to put on your apron (or your gardening gloves) in order to share that passion, your vision, and your tools for creating and nourishing a healthy community. The opportunities are endless - due warning here, you may need to create them yourself - but, I repeat, the opportunities are endless, and the need is urgent.

In addition, and maybe most important, all RDs are now needed to help educate the public to become food and health literate, to think beyond and behind our plates (quoting another super-star RD, my friend Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD, aka Food Sleuth) so together we all can connect the dots between the food we eat (and recommend), how that food was grown or processed, plus our collective soil, water, and air qualities to our personal, community, and planetary health. 

This is no small charge for our profession's future. 

Indeed, our profession's knowledge and skills are needed more than ever, and the time is now to make sure we get in the game and then step up to the plate to create healthy communities that are based on sustainable food and agriculture systems. We cannot wait for someone else to hit a grand slam home-run in the bottom of the 9th inning to win this game. Society urgently needs each member of our profession to hit a single, catch the pop-up, stop a passed ball, tag the runner, etc. etc. You get the idea. Jump in! 

Here is where I want to reassure you. I know you are excited about becoming/being an RD or you would not have read this far. However, if you look around and are beginning to see  the overwhelming number of ways that our current agriculture and food systems are creating unhealthy people and unhealthy communities, know that you have both good eyes and a good heart. If you look around and feel like the odds are long against winning, i.e., creating healthy, sustainable communities, please don't give up now. Instead, know that you can join up with the growing team of registered dietitians within the Hunger & Environmental Dietetic Practice Group who are committed to going the distance within our professional organization and will be very willing to help you along your professional path of helping to create healthy and sustainable food systems. 

Nothing that you have done to become an RD has been easy. I know that. Nothing you ever do as an RD will be easy. I know that, too. In fact, anything meaningful is almost always both difficult and time-consuming to accomplish. However, and this is important, I want you to know that your career can also be fun in addition to being meaningful. I'm certainly having fun and find enjoyment being a dietitian who is also an organic farmer and food educator. Find the fun (no matter what specialty area of practice you choose), find your enjoyment, and share it within the various sectors of your community. 

And here are my words of wisdom, after 36 years as an RD, I have finally learned that fun comes from real food, not nutrients.  :)

Thank you for choosing to become an RD. The world needs you, and the world needs you now. I send you all my best wishes for a long, meaningful, and yes, fun career. :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD 


melissa kay said...

I was fortunate enough to work with Diana in the ICU and as it happened, we were neighbors! (& became dear friends). Both of us off the typical path for both dietitians and physicians--yet, really, we have always been on THE path to celebrate our earth, what food it brings forth to nourish our bodies and souls, strategies each one of us can bring to our lives, our families, and our communities to make a difference in health and disease. For future and current dieticians and nutrition-interesteds, using science, some common sense, and embracing your community--all with a touch of passion, will make differences you cannot fully imagine! Thanks for blogging, Diana! <3

Lindsay said...

Diana, thank you for your hopeful message ending this post. It is important for me to know that seasoned RDs can see that we are making progress to a brighter future. I am a new dietitian, and I certainly have passions for food, farming, and healthy communities. I'm so glad to hear that you believe in fun at work, yet you understand that challenges to even become a dietitian. Living for an alternative cause is so lonely and difficult sometimes, I don't know what I would do without HENers like you out there to tell me that it is worth it. Wishing you all the best, and thank you for your words of wisdom.

Diana Dyer said...

Melissa and Lindsay - many thanks for sharing your comments. They mean a lot to me, but perhaps even more importantly, our words together will be ripples spreading out from a stone thrown into a pond, where perhaps they will also be meaningful to someone else who will read them at some later point. Yes, living and working for a future that is healthy, clean, and fair is worth it, and the friendships made along the way are part of the reward, even fun. :)

Alaine said...

Thank you for this inspiring post! I am a Dietetics student and trying to improve my recipe modification skills this summer. I really enjoy this area but it sometimes can be discouraging to see people pin cupcakes 10 times more often than a healthy choice. Thank you for sharing this message to future RD's!

Mary Jo said...

As a fellow certified organic farmer and registered dietitian (also for 36 years!), we have seen so much in our careers and lives that have landed us on the road less traveled. I am grateful to be on this journey with you Diana, as we join with a growing number of insightful and courageous RDs to be the change we need to see. My hope is in our next generation and their resolve to seek the authentic and understand the whole food system, for in making the connections, we find the solutions.