Food is Health: My Path to Nutrition and Public Health
Food has always been a major part of my life. Like many people, some of my first memories involve the foods I was eating in those moments. From enjoying piles of oven-baked dinosaur chicken nuggets and tater tots at home, to spending my dad’s weekly day off running through a drive-thru for a hamburger. These first memories, while positive, did not always contain the most healthful food choices. Giving more thought to the health content of my foods did not come to me until later in life after being introduced to healthy eating, cooking, and nutrition science in an elective class I took in high school. This class marked a shift in the way I looked at food, just as I was trying to figure out what my future might hold. It not only gave me the helpful baseline knowledge of nutrition to make healthy choices but changed the course of my career pursuits. When I found out this was something I could not only study further but share with others, I was set on becoming a dietitian.
Working toward this goal meant I was becoming a nutrition expert. To my surprise as a college freshman, this was not just learning the calorie content of all foods but understanding what makes food both nutritious and safe. “Foodservice Safety” was my first real introduction to foodborne illness. Many of my college classes shaped both my personal life and professional career, but this one class was unique in that it really changed my everyday view on what and how I ate. Proper temperatures for cooking meat, refrigerator storage protocols, thoughts around cross-contamination, and many more food safety ideas followed me into my own kitchen. It also made me think twice about trusting restaurants to carry out these vital steps properly. For most, this class was a check in the list of boxes needed to be a well-rounded applicant or as another step in becoming a dietitian. For me, this was an eye-opening look at an even more fundamental way to improve health with food.
Even though this information was important to understand and made a difference to me personally, it wasn’t something I immediately got to use much when practicing as a dietitian. The first opportunity I recall was when I shared food safety prevention one-on-one while working in a hospital in Louisiana. A patient was admitted due to a severe Salmonella infection, and when they were feeling better, they requested information on how they may prevent foodborne illness in the future. I was so happy to be able to provide this person with resources and information on a topic that meant a lot to me. This inspired me further to put food safety first when sharing information with patients. Currently, while doing nutrition counseling in a primary care office here at OSUWMC, I try my best to include a bit of food safety knowledge into the healthy lifestyle changes suggested on their visits. From recommending a meat thermometer to discussing the appropriate storage time for prepped and packed foods, I am thankful to be able to help people with this aspect of health first.
Firmly understanding that preventing foodborne illness was the first step in making a healthy food choice gave me a completely different outlook on nutrition. This outlook, as well as my goal of working to impact population health, have been the reasons for my pursual of a Master’s in Public Health here at The Ohio State University. Studying public health has led to an even further evolution in my views on food and nutrition. Not only is healthy food, safe food, but healthy food is also accessible, equitable and culturally appropriate. With my educational, professional and personal food and nutrition experiences I have come to know that food is health, but not in the way that I originally thought. Sure, nutritious food is important, but there is so much more to our health.
In my internship with the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention (CFI), I have been focused on communication. In working with the communication team, I have had the opportunity to be a small part of the many pieces of work we do to decrease foodborne illness in our communities and worldwide. The responsibility to learn, understand and share in just a few of the many activities of CFI has been a great experience in combining my interests and aspirations in both food and public health. Just like the many members of CFI, I hope to use everything I have learned this year to push my career toward effecting change in population health.