I know I haven’t written or posted anything for a while and there are many reasons at play for that but with the recent current events, inaction and silence are no longer an option. The events surrounding George Floyd and systemic racism against BIPOC communities has caused many to pause and reflect about the systems and institutions that we participate in, including myself which sparked this post. Some may think that my position is rather dramatic, I would argue those people who think so are proving my point; that Nutrition and Dietetics is systemically racist.
To be clear, I am not saying ALL Dietitians or Nutritionists are racist (although there are MANY that are knowingly or unknowingly engaging in overt or covert racist behaviours) I am saying that the way Dietetics is practiced is fundamentally & systemically racist which is the fault of the organization and in part the overall healthcare system. Please understand the difference between overt racism and covert racism (Please see attached educational graphic developed by Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (2005) and adapted by Ellen Tuzzolo (2016))
The reality of racism in Healthcare is very real. The Center for Disease Control examined pregnancy-related deaths in the United States from 2011 to 2015 and even more detailed data from 2013-2017 to show that black women at 3.3 times more likely than white women to suffer a pregnancy -related death. Native American and Alaskan First Nations women were 2.5 times more likely to die than white women. In 2005 the Institute of Medicine (Not-for-profit, non-governmental organization now known as National Academy of Medicine (NAM)) found that “Racial and ethnic minorities received lower-quality health care than white people – even when insurance status, income, age and severity of conditions are comparable.” The NAM Report goes on to quote a study of over 400 hospitals in America that showed black patients with heart disease receiving older, cheaper and more conservative treatments than their white counterparts. They go on to state that Black patients are more likely to receive less desirable treatments.
“Oh that’s America, Canada is MUCH Better” I can assure it’s not.
If you Google image search “nutrition” you will primarily find pictures of White Women eating salads. If you Google search “graduating class” images in nutrition programs across the country, you will find minimal diversity and any diversity that exists exhibits white-passing privilege. If you Google search the current iteration of the food guide you will only find Euro-Centric and North American-Centric foods. If you go on a Government funded website you can find behaviours and actions that fundamentally erase or minimize ethnicity or downright uses OFFENSIVE RACIAL SLURS!!! (Yes, these are REAL screen grabs I took from this unnamed Government Funded website as of June 1, 2020 at 9:59am).
But wait! There’s more!
There are two ways to become a Dietitian in Canada - An expensive Master’s/ Diploma Practicum program or a 9-month unpaid Postgraduate Practicum Program (Formerly known as the Dietetic Internship) followed by a standardized written exam. That’s right folks! After 4 years of University and student debt our options are to go further into debt OR to try to survive for 9-10 months without an income OR realize that the degree that you now have doesn’t qualify you for anything. Did I also mention that many of those Dietetic programs are in Toronto? Where we have INSANELY high cost of living rates? Did I also mention that HUNDREDS of Dietitians were also told that if they were working a part-time job during their “Prestigious” unpaid internship that they weren’t taking it seriously and forced to quit? Did I also mention that the Dietitians that are supposed to be teaching these “Prestigious Unpaid Internships” aren’t properly trained to be teachers at all? Why is that last one important? Well remember those racist Dietitians? They pass on racist thinking and ideals, whether it be overt or covert racism.
Want to see the height of systemic racism in Dietetics? Look at the cultural erasure in the practices of not only the screen grabs but look at Canada’s Food Guide. NOT ALL CULTURES AND ETHNICITIES EAT USING A PLATE MODEL! By getting rid of portion sizes we lose a universal language to communicate; numbers and math. Which is extremely important when counselling with a language barrier! If you want to justify the removal of portion sizes based on current research, then how do you possibly justify the reduction in numbers and frequency of foods and ingredients from other cultures visually represented on the plate model. Oh, you like the food guide because it promotes mindful eating? Well have you considered what a LUXURY and PRIVILEGE it is that your food security is so good that you don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from? rather you worry about HOW you’re eating the foods and whether or not you’re enjoying them? Have you also considered how privileged you are to be able to AFFORD to follow the advice on the Canadian Food Guide, which even when you follow does not meet all daily nutritional requirements? The problem here is that the individuals that designed this dumpster fire of a Government funded resource completely FAILED to think about anything other that a Euro and North American-Centric view of eating and food. (To date, I still cannot find a list of the people that were responsible for their “expert” input into this back up single ply toilet paper document to see what the diversity was behind that panel because it’s my guess that, AGAIN, no one bothered to care about it).
This is the example that takes the cake and it is my personal story that I have avoided making public until now. Years ago, I accepted an extraordinary position, a position where I would be able to help diversify this profession and begin to undo the vast amount of damage done by a poorly run organization. Unfortunately, like other POC, my position was an example of Tokenism. Now to be clear, I KNEW that this is what they were doing, however (at the time) I felt it to be my responsibility to represent ACTUAL diversity in the profession and ADVOCATE and discuss those issues that were being ignored every single year. As soon as that announcement went live and it was revealed that I would be representing Ontario, the biggest and most populated region in Canada, the complaints came. Countless colleagues from across Ontario complaining that I do not represent “them” and that they were outraged. To those that complained, I want you to read this very carefully; I DON’T CARE THAT I DIDN’T REPRESENT YOU!
I endured the stones thrown at me, because as a POC this is what we deal with OUR ENTIRE LIVES! But I finally snapped when over 2 years of my advocacy, volunteered time and efforts were COMPLETELY ignored when they chose to celebrate Nutrition Month with a COMPLETE LACK OF DIVERSITY promoting only images of White Women or women of White-Passing privilege for nutrition month. The reason I was given was to celebrate the Award winners from last year and to give recognition. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but they were already celebrated LAST YEAR, weren’t they? Their achievements were publicly well known, so why do it again? Why not focus on other members and their achievements? The other explanation I was given tried claim that they were promoting diversity in PRACTICE SETTING – this is not only bullshit, it’s insulting. Furthermore, when that project was announced 3 years ago, one of the markers of success would be 80% satisfaction amongst that organization’s members, that now means something VERY different to me. Because that now means to me that 80% of your members satisfied with the systemic racism in your organization.
You think this is personal? I assure you it’s not. There are MANY examples of Dietitians from marginalized communities and those that represent true diversity that have put in so much work to create free resources, webinars and materials only to have them be completely ignored. Examples of male Dietitians putting together resources and action plans on how to attract more men to this profession to be able to better address Men’s health issues and to provide more options for counselling, only to be ignored. Examples of BIPOC Dietitians having their resources appropriated by White counterparts without acknowledgement of their work. White Dietitians using cultural events like Ramadan or Lunar New Year for their social media without acknowledging the culture and history just because that particular hashtag is trending. Those Dietitians have shared their stories with me but haven’t spoken out for fear of losing their jobs or being ostracized or wanting to change the system from within. I simply don’t care what anyone thinks of me anymore.
“OH Ben! That was a few years ago, it’s much better now!”
Yeah, the promotional materials are now OUTRIGHT lying about the diversity that doesn’t exist in this profession. Look at the image below and look at the LinkedIn image above and compare it to the images used on the Government funded website. You could try to justify the idea of “Many people won’t know what these foods are” OK fair, but then explain to me why Shakshouska, an Arabic dish, or Khao Tom, a Thai Rice Soup, maintains it’s cultural and ethnic identity when OVERTLY racist terminology like “Oriental” is used to describe recipes posted directly in-front of a culturally insensitive “Proudly Canadian Beet and Barley Salad” (It’s not like Beets or Barley are an ingredient native to Canada like the Fiddlehead, and “Proudly Canadian” carries many problematic First Nations implications, which is shocking to see considering the vast number of Canadian Dietitians that work in First Nations populations)
The reality is that Dietetics has avoided this much needed PUBLIC criticism for far too long. Dietetics has been complicit in supporting Systemic Racism and cultural erasure. Dietetics has become more elitist and privileged than EVER BEFORE. My concerns when I first entered the profession around 10 years ago have all become reality. We now see vulnerable populations getting worse health outcomes because communities don’t trust Eurocentric and Culturally irrelevant and insensitive information coming from predominantly White Dietitians. We see worsening men’s health outcomes because we don’t have enough male Dietitians available. We now see more and more requests for referrals due to cultural and language barriers. We see higher and higher private practice costs to meet an individual’s sense of worth more than their need to be effective for their clients and communities. I don’t care if you’re uncomfortable with the things I’m saying because they need to be said, and you should be uncomfortable. I don’t care if you disagree with my methods, you want them to be peaceful so it can be ignored.
Ever since the change in leadership of this organization following a GIANT pay scandal of the previous management and direction, there have been some improvements. But as every other POC in the world knows, unless more consistent change is coming and planned, unless more people come out and speak about this without fear and without apology, unless you plan to change the systemically racist structure in Nutrition and Dietetics, we POC know that this “Change” is short lived and just a Public Relations move. Prove us wrong because this systemic racism affects the health of all of Canada. Black Indigenous People of Colour are being murdered in the streets by Police Officers but healthcare and Dietetics has been neglecting and devaluing their health and lives all along.
No more excuses
DO BETTER, NOW
Rest in Power
P.S. Just for fun, here’s a list of just SOME of the prejudice, racism, sexism, elitism and discrimination I have experienced from my own colleagues. (Read this list and understand it. You do not get to tell a POC what is racist or how to feel)
P.P.S. Re-read my words before commenting. The nutrition world has recently had MULTIPLE cases demonstrating incapability to understand the written word. I also fully understand that this does not position Dietitians and Nutritionists in a good light – This is my full intent. It is unethical to continue to support a system that blatantly oppresses people based on their ethnicity and to discriminate them based on their economic status. So, if you read my words and feel the need to organize a petition for me to take this post down, then all you’ve done is give me a list of Racist Dietitians. We have a problem and there are FAR TOO MANY Dietitians that are silent and complicit in this racism.