Food Agriculture & Nutrition Network of Solano County
Katie Zaboy, Eastern Michigan University Dietetic Intern 2019
Living and working in Solano County we interact daily with a diverse community of people. Cultural competency is vital to unify our community, to create a safe and thriving place to live.
What is culture?Culture refers to a group that we have shared experiences with, that in turn informs the way we understand the world around us. Culture can be groups we are born into like race, class, national origin, or ones we join or become a part of by moving to a new place, becoming disabled, or based on our lifestyle choices. Culture can be inborn or by choice, either way someone’s culture is something we should work to understand and respect.
One of the first steps in becoming culturally competent is to recognize and understand our own culture. Understanding our own culture can help us become aware of areas where we may differ from other cultures and can help us to be sensitive about asserting our own cultural norms on others.
Building a trusting relationship with the people we are working with, whether it’s clients or colleagues, is important because when working towards common goals differing opinions and ideas are inevitable, we need to trust that we can express ourselves in a safe and respectful environment.
Food and Culture
In the realm of food, in whatever capacity we interact with others, whether it is food/nutrition education, providing food or services, etc., different cultures tend to view nutrition in the context of their own food culture. When encouraging people to adopt healthier eating habits and providing strategies for successful outcomes, it is important to understand the food customs of different cultures to help support sustainable changes.
This is important to recognize because a traditional “healthy” American dietary pattern does not work across the board. The typical American recommendation to include whole grains, lean proteins, and more vegetables may not work in different cultures and their customary cuisine, it is important to recognize these differences. Here we explore a few culturally significant nutrition areas to keep in mind.
1. White Rice and Noodles
White rice is core food in many cultures. Mixing brown rice into white rice, substituting whole wheat noodles or brown rice noodles for refined grain noodles are a few ways to improve fiber and nutrient composition of the overall diet. However, for some cultures white rice is such an integral part of their food culture that people may be unwilling to change. Core foods are the foundation of the diet and are typically a part of most meals, they are relatively inexpensive, easy to acquire and prepare. Changing a core food item like white rice may not be a realistic solution. In this case, decreasing portion serving size of white rice or refined grains and increasing vegetables is an excellent option.
All cultures incorporate vegetables into their dietary patterns. However, many of them tend to use the same few kinds of vegetables in all of their meals. One way to improve vegetable intake and diversify nutrient assortment is to add new vegetables in addition to traditional vegetables in customary dishes.
3. Preserving Traditional Preparation Techniques
Most cultural dishes are distinctive by their preparation methods. Preserving traditional preparation techniques but choosing leaner cuts of meats, lower fat versions of dairy foods and using healthy fats such as olive, canola, peanut, vegetable, soybean and corn oils can help make traditional meals that much healthier.
4. Diet and Beliefs
Many food customs stems from religious or moral beliefs. Checking in with the people in our community to understand the different belief systems that might dictate dietary customs is important to understand the rules that may apply to their dietary patterns. Offering nutrient dense meat alternatives, providing foods that abide to religious law, and supporting eating patterns, such as fasting during times of worship, by encouraging nutrient dense meals during fast breaking periods, supports individualized belief systems.
The Take Away
Respecting cultural food traditions and preferences while encouraging a nutrient rich, healthful diet is important. Working collaboratively with people, in all areas related to food, to encourage preservation of flavors, textures, and food customs while making small changes over time, can be educational for everyone involved. Understanding how to best serve various cultures and creating trusting relationships can help encourage members of the community to feel comfortable with taking advantage of the many services available to them.
Building Relationships with People from Different Cultures. Community Toolbox. https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/culture/cultural-competence/building-relationships/main. Accessed October 18, 2019.
Fox M. Global Food Practices, Cultural Competency, and Dietetics. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015;15(5):s16-s20.