Wednesday, March 11, 2015

2015 National Dietitian Day - Should "Radical" be the New Normal?

Blogging "rules" tell you to limit blog postings to 300 words or your readers won't get the message. Sorry. I don't subscribe to the "fast food", "grab-n-go" mentality of our society that is constantly pushed on us. So,  I am just giving my readers a heads-up. This blog posting will be much longer than 300 words, so if you are still interested in reading what I have to say, I suggest you wait until you have time to read my full posting, that you have the time and mental space to think, and perhaps even savor what I have written. I would like to envision you having made a pot of organic, fair trade tea before reading this. :)

Ok - enough lead in. Good news! Another year has gone by, and I'm still "healthy enough"! So here we go for National Dietitian Day 2015. :)

Forty years ago at this time in 1975, I was finally applying for a coveted spot (even then) in a dietetic internship. Once I had finally made the decision to become a registered dietitian (RD), I then worked so hard to fulfill the prerequisites and had been so focused on this path during the previous two years that I honestly never thought about what I would do if not accepted. So surprise! shock! when I learned I had been rejected. I was able to learn that I was rejected not because I didn't meet the rigorous academic requirements, but because I was a childhood cancer survivor. Pause ……. Yes, you read that right.

I'm going to make a long story short here. I got in, that year, to the same internship that had first rejected me, in fact discriminated against me based solely on my medical history. This was not the first time I had found myself going against the grain, needing to advocate for myself, doing something differently than the usual path, speaking up, speaking out to solve a problem. Nor would it be the last.

The simplest way to explain my thinking and subsequent actions is to say that having survived an illness in which doctors involved did not even offer my parents any treatment ("just take her home and make her comfortable"), let alone offer hope, I was not going to let anyone easily tell me "no" for anything. Having survived what was considered hopeless, my modus operandi very simply had become "finding a way to yes". And finding a way to yes to find a solution for a problem I decided to tackle has often involved seeing things differently, asking different questions, being persistent, and simply not giving up! 

So, again to make a long story short, I finished that lengthy and rigorous internship combined with a Masters degree, which included a complicated research project and thesis, presented my research (which actually changed best practice for children born with the inborn error of metabolism called PKU) at an international conference, had my first child (with a complicated pregnancy, delivery, birth, and my baby's stay in a neonatal intensive care unit), and then passed the national registration exam (to permit me to use RD after my name) on the first opportunity after my graduation with a MS in Nutritional Sciences. The only thing I didn't get done during this 5-year period - which I still regret - was to actually walk to get my MS diploma, which I had worked so hard and long to achieve.


But I was just getting started. :) I have written about all the meaningful work I have done as a Registered Dietitian (RD) in my previous National RD Day posts starting in 2008. (here is the link to last year's post, which also includes the links to all previous posts I have written for National RD Day).

In a nutshell, I am SO glad I spoke up and didn't just walk away, accepting that initial rejection. 

However, here is the most important lesson that I learned with that initial rejection. In order to solve a problem, rather than just patch it up, or hope it would somehow solve itself, you must first identify and understand the cause or the root of the problem. 

Which leads me to the title of this post. "Should 'Radical' be the New Normal"? 

Huh? Here is the connection. 

Was what I did, challenging the initial rejection into my dietetic internship based on a decision that was clearly discrimination, considered radical? Maybe yes, maybe no, but in either case I don't know that I would have worn that word comfortably back in the 70's as my husband and I had arrived at the University of Wisconsin campus shortly after an anti-war bombing of one of the campus buildings, an action that was clearly radical to the extreme in my mind. 

Indeed, looking up the word radical, the first definition typically includes the emphasis on "extreme":

– Advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social reform: 
representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party.

However, as I have been thinking about what I am doing now as a Registered Dietitian who is also a certified organic farmer, in addition to many things I have done over the past decades that I have been an RD, I have been thinking about this word "radical" more and more. 

Synonyms for the word radical include revolutionary, reformer, revisionist, progressive (among other less appealing words like die-hard, bigot, militant, etc). 

Digging further (oh, I like that pun!), two additional definitions I found for the word radical that ring true and deep with me are the following:

– Adjective: Coming from the Latin radix, of or going to the root or origin; fundamental

– Adjective: Forming a basis or foundation 

Thus, I have come to use the word radical in a meaningful, positive, and powerful way, taking the word radical back to its roots, literally and figuratively, i.e., radical meaning "going to the root" of a problem to find solutions, back to the fundamentals in order to actually understand the cause of problems and then work toward solutions or reform in a thorough and complete manner, rather than a quick, easy, short-term fix, just putting on band-aids, or kicking the can down the road, over and over and over again.

And thinking of the word radical in terms of the word root leads me as an organic farmer to first think about healthy, organic soil as the "root" requirement (i.e., the absolute basis and foundation) for growing healthy, nutrient-dense food as the starting point that leads to solutions for nourishing personal, public, and planetary health.  With that awareness, I realize that I am a "radical dietitian" because I am committed to this "radical vision" of a food system that starts with healthy, organic soil as my touchstone, my roots, the basis for defining my professional responsibilities, which then guide my professional influence and actions.

Should "radical" in that sense be the new normal? Should all RDs be "radical" dietitians, no matter what area of practice they choose? In my opinion, yes, if "radical" means that everywhere possible RDs are making food and nutrition recommendations and/or even direct purchases that lead forward to the development of healthy communities and a healthy planet and also go backward to start a healthy food system with healthy soil.

I often tell my dietetic students that the basis, the starting point, for health is not "we are what we eat" but is instead "we are what we grow", because striving toward health should be larger than just personal health. No matter what narrow focus each of us may choose within the many opportunities our profession offers to apply the appropriate medical nutrition therapy (MNT) learned to become an RD (i.e., diabetes, cancer, sports, eating disorders, GI, intensive care, long-term care, wound care, food services, managing, consulting, research, policy, business ownership, education, and on and on and on and on!!), also using our expertise to work toward the larger picture of healthy environments and healthy communities should be the fundamental, underlying, root reason for choosing to become an RD.

In my view of our professional expertise and responsibility (and yes, it took me a while to see and appreciate this wider and deeper view), this larger picture of healthy environments and healthy communities is a goal that all RDs should support and pursue (where possible) by advocating for healthy food, healthy soils, water, and air as the starting point for health, i.e., back to the starting point "we are what we grow".  

Is my thinking "radical"? Is it "too radical"? What could possibly be "too radical" (in the negative sense that the word is often used) about envisioning and working for solutions that lead to healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people, healthy communities, and a healthy planet, i.e., true sustainability for all?

 What could possibly be "too radical" about directing our professional influence and recommendations to the promotion and support of systems, policies, and practices that preserve, protect, and regenerate healthy soils in addition to clean water, genetic biodiversity (both above and below ground), pollinators, intact diverse ecosystems, and promote carbon sequestration in our soils that can mitigate (even reverse) climate change

Maybe I'll trade in my "Eat More Kale" bumper sticker for one that says "I LOVE Soil" :) 

Before I end this blog post, I will just pause to mention that I am grateful beyond words that my parents challenged the first medical opinion (and even a second) and that they shared my earliest story with me (which I was too young to actually remember). As I grew into young adulthood, trying to piece the world together, I slowly appreciated the significance of their actions, which showed me the importance of thinking clearly when faced with a problem, looking for solutions outside the norm, finding courage, speaking up, creating a way to yes, going against the grain when necessary, being atypical, even being radical (at the extreme) when that was the only possible solution, as my parents were by challenging the authority of a medical system that first said "no", at a time when questioning a doctor's recommendation was never done. 

I am also grateful beyond measure for the one person on that internship selection committee who saw things differently and helped to move the Universe in ways that ultimately got me back on to the acceptance list. 

Just a few more thoughts before I sign off this year's blog post for the 2015 National RD Day. Maybe RD can also be a professional abbreviation for "Radical Dietitian". :) Probably not, but I am quite comfortable wearing that word now. In fact, I like to envision all future registered dietitians (RD) also thinking of themselves as being "Radical Dietitians", making "radical" professional food and nutrition recommendations that seek to address root causes of problems wherever they can in order to promote effective solutions within every component of the health care spectrum, solutions that support healthy, microbe and humus-rich organic soil as the non-negotiable beginning, the foundation, the root of healthy food systems, healthy communities, and a healthy planet.

I like thinking of that training and commitment being the "new normal" for my profession, and I am happy thinking about and working toward that along with other RDs who share the same vision and values.

If you're already an RD or an RD2B (still doing an undergrad program, already in a dietetic internship, or just starting to think about becoming a registered dietitian) and you'd like to jump on board to help shape the future in this "radical" direction, my best and most enthusiastic advice is to join the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (under the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - AND). You'll be in good company with the values held by other HEN members along with HEN's mission to empower its members to be leaders in sustainable and accessible food and water systems, which is the foundation of our professional responsibility no matter where you apply your expertise and passions about food and nutrition. (Note: student members of AND can join HEN DPG for a reduced fee!) 

One last thought - I have just turned age 65. With that milestone, I also just received my Welcome to Medicare card, which is no small feat for a childhood cancer survivor who was first given zero chance of survival at age 6 months in 1950 and has had multiple additional cancer diagnoses and significant medical problems secondary to cancer therapies since then. Although age 65 and Medicare are often still synonymous with "retirement" in this country, I have not even looked at the criteria for continuing membership in my professional organization in a retired capacity.

I am still "healthy enough", and I think I still have some work to do for my profession as long as I am able, perhaps mostly planting seeds and nurturing others' careers through my opportunity to touch the future via the dietetic students and interns who participate in HEN's School to Farm Program.

I am both happy and grateful thinking about that, too, as that work means that I am also still able to carry the torch forward representing and advocating for both cancer prevention and a healthy life for all cancer survivors.

Paraphrasing the title of an inspirational book I just read, Good Morning, Beautiful Business by Judy Wicks, every morning I say:

 "Good Morning, Beautiful Life!"

Yes, adding an exclamation mark. :) I hope all of my readers (whether you are an RD or an aspiring RD, cancer survivor, or one of my many general readers) also have a way to greet your new day, every morning, thinking about or creating some part of your day, some part of your life, where perhaps wearing the word "radical" is comfortable and also a beautiful part of your own new normal. :)

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

Diana Dyer, MS, RD (radical dietitian) :)

PS - This blog post (the last time I checked) is 2,202 words.  Might be more by now. Thanks for reading this far. :)