October 21, 2013
My name is Candice. I love the city, especially Baltimore. As a nutrition student, I’ve enjoyed learning about the nuances of the city’s food environment. I got to explore it this week, as I rotated at the Center for a Livable Future (CLF).
Before this week, my days had been spent bustling around a hospital, working with patients and familiarizing myself with how Registered Dietitians provide evidence-based, individualized medical nutrition therapy. Here at CLF, I felt challenged to take a step back and think about the bigger picture.
My week kicked off with a very big picture of what it means to provide dietary recommendations: I was charged with reviewing the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and developing suggestions to promote environmental sustainability for an upcoming 2015 version. I reviewed transcripts from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group that develops recommendations for future guidelines. This was a refreshing way to think about broader questions: what type of food environment do we want to develop, not just for individual health, but for the health of future generations? What would it look like if we were to build food systems that promoted sustainability and health from seed to plate? These questions led me down a rabbit hole of research, as I explored the intersections in policy, agriculture and nutrition.
In the process, I read a fantastic article by Angie Tagtow and Alison Harmon, which highlighted ways that dietitians can cultivate sustainable food systems. I realized that when thinking about the big picture of our food system, being an expert in only one sector is not enough. I was glad to have some practice exploring food policy development and sustainable agriculture.
On Wednesday, I shadowed Sheryl Hoehner, a dietitian who works at Food Depot, a local supermarket in southwest Baltimore. In collaboration with researchers at the CLF, the Eat Right Live Well campaign was launched at this grocery store in an effort to understand how changes in the supermarket environment could encourage low-income shoppers to select healthful grocery items. As a part of the campaign, Sheryl hosts weekly taste tests and nutrition classes in the store. During my time there, we offered samples of whole-wheat pumpkin muffins to shoppers. It was great watching Sheryl as she made an effort to greet every customer and make a connection with them. The best part was watching one girl’s face as she began her personal muffin adventure. Her Mom seemed hesitant about sharing the snack: “Would she like it?” It was worthwhile to watch the girl’s expression change from puzzlement to delight as she chewed the snack.
Thursday was another day of exploring the city’s food environment. I had the privilege of volunteering in the soup kitchen and food pantry of the Franciscan Center, an outreach agency founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Baltimore in 1968. Their mission is “to provide emergency assistance and supportive outreach to persons who are economically disenfranchised in an effort to assist them in realizing their self-worth and dignity as people of God.” Every day, they offer a hot meal to those in need. Armed with hair nets, plastic gloves, and serving spoons, I and many other volunteers served over 300 hot plates of spaghetti, with salad and hot soup. The salad is worth mentioning again. Though it was a small, simple thing, it was beautiful: bursting with color from dark leafy greens, vibrant tomato slices and cheery cucumbers. The salad was likely composed from donated produce from the Tuesday CSA pickup at JHSPH, and then chopped by volunteers on the previous day. It made me realize the amount of work goes into making an acceptable, attractive and healthful meal that dignifies the people who receive it.
Serving healthy meals isn’t their only focus. In partnership with One Straw Farm, the center provides families with the means to do their own healthy cooking at home. After lunch, I handed out produce from the Fresh Harvest Community Support Agriculture (CSA) Project. This project offers a free weekly CSA share to 30 families, while also providing nutrition information and tips for cooking their vegetables.
I thought that coming to CLF would give me a big picture focus when thinking about improving the food environment. Instead, I got to consider the big and small pictures together. We need to care about both. As dietitians and nutrition professionals, we need to be thinking about how to utilize our skills to shape policy and improve the food environment in our country. Similarly, we need to find ways to connect with others to promote good, fresh food. Through partnering organizations and projects here at CLF, I got to meet those who are considering the big and small pictures: the policy world and the lunch salad.
This week at CLF gave me the chance to keep adjusting and readjusting my lens of the food system. It made me understand the need to have both views in my endeavors as a future dietitian. I think I speak for all the dietetic interns who rotated at the CLF this year, when I say that I am very thankful to the CLF staff and community partners who helped make this rotation a great learning experience.
THE DIETETIC INTERN SERIES
Trying New Things: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 1) – by Khrysta Baig
Food Systems and Patient Care: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 2) – by Marie Spiker
Hands On in the Community: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 3) – by Bernice Chu
The Nutritional Environment: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 4) – by Caitlin Krekel
Small and Big Pictures: Notes from a Dietetic Intern (Part 5) – by Candice Gormley