Today’s statement of concern comes from Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN (Twitter handle: @eco_nutrition).
“I’ve always loved food and, although my path to dietetics has been unconventional, I am proud of it. In college, I studied environmental studies and became increasingly depressed as to the state of the environment and the large-scale destruction caused by industry, including industrial agriculture. The dark cloud lifted when I discovered sustainable agriculture and learned about organics, permaculture and biodynamic methods of food production. I interned on an urban community farm and learned to grow food in a way that actually improves the health of the earth, supports the community and produces delicious, nutritious food. That experience led many years working on farms and I became a passionate advocate for local food systems.
When I decided to go back to school, nutrition was the clear field to pursue. I wanted to use food to heal, food as medicine and teach people about the benefits of supporting sustainable agriculture. Luckily, I found a Master’s program that was in line with my beliefs and dove in, discovering a love for all facets of nutrition – from biochemistry to counseling.
One struggle I faced was whether or not to become a dietitian. I knew some amazing RDs in the field and knew there would be many benefits to registration. However, the public stance of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (then known as the American Dietetic Association) was something I felt very uncomfortable with.
I did not support the corporate sponsorship of the Academy and I did not see the Academy presenting public statements that I agreed with. I felt that corporate interests, and not public or environmental health, influenced how the Academy responded to nutrition inquiries. I was awarded a small Academy scholarship during graduate school and received a check directly from ConAgra. Was I supposed to suddenly overlook ConAgra’s history of environmental destruction, workers rights violations and food safety issues to become an advocate for Reddi-Wip and Egg Beaters? It was at that moment I decided not to become an RD.
After practicing nutrition for several years and facing the barriers to practice and employment that many non-RDs face, I decided to complete my internship and become an RD, and to be honest, it was a decision that I continued to struggle with during my internship. I remember one specific webinar I attended on weight loss that was clearly corporate propaganda disguised as “evidence-based” science. I came to find out the webinar was developed by ConAgra.
The current nutrition standards are not working to prevent disease. It’s time to reevaluate and promote what does work: real food. With corporate sponsorship in place as it is now, there is no way the Academy can move forward and be taken seriously as an organization that promotes health.
I believe in the value of a science-based nutrition education and I worry that those smart, passionate women and men interested in nutrition will pursue other paths because of the Academy’s current reputation. I almost did.
I used to think I needed to rebel against the status quo; now I want to be a part of the change.
I’m proud of my education and experience and thankful for the doors that have opened in my career because I am an RD. I want to feel proud of my professional organization as well.”