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Removing Cultural Food Blind Spots

Savannah Helm

By: Alicia Jerome MS, RDN

As dietitians, we are the food experts. We can feel a certain possessiveness of food knowledge. We can cringe when someone “unqualified” uses their platform to speak about what we know and love. And yet, each of us also have our own food and nutrition blind spots where we can fortify ourselves personally and professionally. By learning new foods, recipes, and cultural history, we are, in a way, saying “I see you, I respect you, and I want to learn more about you.”

One such blind spot is the food of specific cultures. As we celebrate Black History Month, consider these questions:

  • Could you, from a lineup of dishes, distinguish which one was “Soul,” Creole, African American, or Cajun?
  • Could you, alter menu suggestions for an African American patient to closely match their cultural eating style and preferred foods?

By studying the history of food of the Black community, we can gain a deeper appreciation of food and how it nourishes those we love. Food developed, created, and made by black cooks reveals how to maintain traditions and memories with or without written record. It also can emphasize the joy of cooking while using locally sourced ingredients. 

Would you feel confident answering these questions and how they have affected modern day cookbooks of all cuisines?

  • Could you, by looking at recipe ingredients, determine if it had African roots?
  • Can you share the stories behind “The Negro Welcome,” the Holy Trinity, or why shrimp and grits are often missing in black cookbooks?

Jubilee and The Jemima Code are two such books that offer fun and delicious ways to experience the history of food and cookbooks within the black community. The Rise, highlights modern black chefs along with historical roots, and intermingled cuisines with Korean, Caribbean, European, and African influences.

Denine Rogers, MS, RDN, LD, FAND, Past Chair of NOBIDAN (National Organization of Blacks in Dietetics and Nutrition) and an Integrative & Functional RDN as well as owner of Living Healthy, shares that “…Jubilee takes us on a journey of the historical culinary significance from the shores of Africa to the roots of African American heritage cooking.” She continues by saying “The author shows how many familiar dishes had evolved into our present-day meals and how African and African-American cooking historically influenced our national treasure cuisines.” 

Why should a dietitian want to know more about the history of food from different cultures? What better way to fill in our blind spots and become the expert in more areas of food than to increase our cultural food knowledge?

We all want our profession to grow in recognition and esteem. As dietitians, learning more about each other and the food that laces our life unites us personally and it elevates us professionally.

In the upcoming months, also look for reasons to celebrate Native American and Eastern Indian food cultures. 


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