A Cultural Shortfall of the 2020 Food Guidelines

The Lempert Report
February 04, 2021

Culture matters in our food communications.

As you know every 5 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services assemble a committee that get together and develop new food guidelines for Americans that urge people to customize a diet of nutrient-dense food. For the first time this year, they made recommendations for infant nutrition and other stages of life.

But, once again there are many who look at them and are dissatisfied. For me, once of the biggest issues is that they do not acknowledge the nuances of culture and ethnicity which is at the heart of how Americans feed themselves. “There’s different ways you can be racist,” said Esosa Edosomwan, a certified nutrition specialist and behavioral coach in Washington, D.C. to the Los Angeles Times “You can be racist by omitting people, by making guidelines that only cater to a specific group.” Edosomwan — a Nigerian American also known as the Raw Girl — began her nutrition journey while trying to find a diet that would alleviate persistent acne. She found a raw food class and began writing about her food-as-medicine reeducation on her blog, Raw Girl Toxic World. “I was trying to figure out what I could become that would allow me to treat people with nutrition,” she said. “I saw mostly white women in this field that were celebrity nutritionists.” For example she told the Times, “a white dietitian, she’s probably going to tell you to have some Greek yogurt with a handful of almonds and a serving of protein the size of your fist, when what you really want is egusi soup,”  - a West African dish made from the ground, nutrient-dense egusi seed, vegetables and meat or fish. Food is a big part of culture, and you can’t dismiss where a client comes from, she said. Her clients are encouraged to cook within their culture but to make changes to ingredients when needed to improve nutritional quality.

Here is why really understanding the culture of how and why someone eats  is important. According to a 2017 JAMA study, nearly half of all U.S. deaths from heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes may be attributed in part to poor diet. These health conditions disproportionately affect people of color: 11.7% of Black people, 12.5% of Hispanics and 9.2% of non-Hispanic Asians have been diagnosed with diabetes, versus 7.5% of non-Hispanic whites, according to the 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report. Culture matters in our food communications.