"Culture is is kind of like the foundation by which everyone grows up with and they grow up on the culture of foods that they are used to, and some are healthy, some are less healthy. And so my philosophy is that everyone can eat right." - Yvonne D. Greer, MPH, RD, CD
Shireen: Miss Yvonne Greer, owner of Y-Eat Right, nutritional consultant for healthy living, conducts special workshops to promote healthy nutritional and living behaviors. Her ultimate goal is to reach as many people as possible to assist them in being healthy and living a long and productive life. Welcome, Yvonne.
Yvonne: Thank you for having me.
Shireen: Absolute pleasure having you on. So with that, I want to dive right in. And I want to ask you what led you to work within nutrition and specifically within diabetes care?
Yvonne: Well, I will always start off with, I call it my mission moment. Because this has been something that started way back when I was 12 years old. When my grandmother, she became ill, and she went to the hospital, my mother met her at the hospital. And she was actually in a coma. And on a stretcher, so I saw at 12 years old and bringing her into the hospital emergency room. And I could not believe, you know that she was that sick. The next day, well, we stayed there a while. And then they told us that she was unstable, and yet, we can go home. The next day, when we went back to the hospital. My grandmother was sitting up in the bed, smiling, is as sweet as she always has been. And then my mother said, Well, what, what was the problem? The nurse that there said, Oh, she's a diabetic, she'll have to watch what she eats. She's gonna be fine. And from then on, I was like, Oh my god, can food actually make you like that? Can food actually, you know, cause you to be that sick. So that's really started me wondering, What does food, does in the body once you take it in. And that really prompted me to really look into dietician, I graduated from school when I was 16. So my, my creative writing teacher told me, you know, what, she asked me, What do you want to be when you grow up, and I said, either a dietitian, or a creative writing teacher. She told me, be a creative writing teacher. I mean, she taught me to be a dietician, she said that journalists, there's a lot of starving journalists out there. And that's, that's filled it for me because I love the food. I love to eat. And you know, I did want to make some money.
Shireen: So that, that pushed in that direction.
Yvonne: That pushed me right into that direction. And there's, there's a into that, to the, to the story is that as a dietitian, that when I was first out, I was about 20, when I was about 25, my grandmother went into, you know, the hospital, again, with. with complications of diabetes. And she had went into renal failure. It wasn't until that time that I found out she never received the diet instruction from a dietitian. And she went to her doctor religiously. And from then on, I said, I want to reach as many people as I can, especially in diabetes, to make sure they have the information they need to stay healthy. My mother became diabetic and probably in her 60s. And she's now 83. And the only time she calls me is when she has to tell me what her hemoglobin Awan T is. And that is so good. And so like I said, once I became really interested in it, I found that the style that I have with diabetes, people tend to be able to grab hold of it didn't make it a lifestyle change that they're very comfortable with. And so I'm very pleased with that.
Shireen: And so I want to, I want to talk a little bit about your style. So one of the key things, at least we've seen is highlighting that cultural relevance in nutrition, particularly for those with diabetes. How can a lack of cultural relevance negatively impact healthcare outcomes, again, specifically for those with diabetes? And then what do you see as solutions for placing greater emphasis on this?
Yvonne: Look, culture is, is kind of like the foundation by which everyone grows up with and they grow up on the culture of foods that they are used to, and some are healthy, some are less healthy. And so my philosophy is that everyone can eat right. And traditionally with the traditional foods, with no one some of the basic ingredients. A lack of cultural sensitivity in eating really tunes people out. The sixth Having people change their eating habits to a healthier style. Many times people who are not culturally sensitive, who might say just don't eat that anymore don't understand the context and what that thing means. I particularly feel that food means more than just the vitamins and minerals that the person takes in. So if you know that cultural content, you know, when you say so food, what does that mean to you, and some people don't, the word soul doesn't mean anything. But the long tradition of, you know, the African enslaved Africans working from sunrise to sunset, and then they're given this food that's good for their soul that replenishes them, but that has meaning to a weary, weary body. And then that social gathering around that food that brought people to sprint, that brought people to say that we can last another day, there's a lot more context to it. So now you want to take the food out that's been passed down from tradition to the tradition that people have grown to love because of the love that was put in it, then you can lose people. And I've had some people that started off with me in classes. And I, when I was working at the health department, I did go into community centers, I did do different work at different like, like community centers and clinics. And some of them even because so many people were coming to my classes, like I haven't 30 to 40 people come every two weeks, they said, Well, we need our own rd, because we want to have an ongoing program all the time. Well, the person that they did hire was Caucasian, she wasn't as culturally sensitive. And some of the clients if they would see me out, because I was still around, they would say, Oh, Miss Greer, the little lady, she needs your help. This is what she's telling us. And they tell us to cook our greens this way, that is not gonna work, nobody's gonna do that. Now, when I tell them, take the green, put some smoked turkey or some or lean chicken meat, season that meat first and put your greens in there. They understand I know how it tastes, I know how it's gonna be at the end, they were willing to try and do that I even might have a tasting session. So they can see that it still can taste good. And you can still have your greens. There's been a lot of research to show where you have those healthy makeovers of traditional foods, that, that still give that person that feeling of culture while eating healthy, and that you get more success that way, then, you know, trust trying to say just eat a whole different way.
Shireen: Interesting. So you're, you're based in Milwaukee, and I'm curious to learn how has COVID-19 been impacting the lives of your patients, again, particularly for those with diabetes? And how have you had to adjust your work in order to respond to this pandemic?
Yvonne: Well, just like all places across the country, the The racial makeup of the people who not only get COVID-19, but those that are succumbed by COVID-19, has a racial connotation. And that's the same in Milwaukee that in the especially in the districts that have a high African American population and Hispanic population, that they, that they are having higher rates of contracting the illness, but also now, African Americans have been continued to have the highest death rates. The clients in Milwaukee are fake or fearful, yet, because of some of the jobs that they have, they still have to go out, they still have to work. These are things that you know, are really impacting the community. With my work. We found ways to do some programming with like our peer educator, we have a peer education programs where people who have diabetes are pure ambassadors, and are working with two other individuals. So we have like 10 peer ambassadors, and that means we have about 30 in the, in the cohort right now. We had to stop meeting because the COVID-19 didn't know how we were going to meet again, we had another meeting virtually, but we also paid attention to the idea not only that we wanted to have people who can go online, but we want to have people who can just call in to make sure that they have a way to connect us there are so many of our people that don't have internet access. So that idea of internet access, it can reach some, but there's a quite a white majority that cannot be met. So we are looking at other ways of reaching those individuals, the phone, texting those types of things, is definitely what we are now utilizing, but it has made us a little more distant to the population that we want to to serve as I did a lot of on site workshops. Now I'm doing a lot of virtual workshops. And because people are starting to get used to it, I'm finding that there's more and more people. The other thing I've done a lot is a lot of Facebook Live workshops, that has really been a positive because people can look at Facebook on their smartphones, again, you don't have to have the internet access to do that. And that has made a big difference. And people can call in to ask questions, though, you know, it's, it's changed. It hasn't stopped, but it has changed. What I found in the individuals is that they want more specifics, where before, you know, we talked about the mind played in the composition, they want to know, out of all those foods, which is the best ones, which is going to boost my immunity, which is, you know, the ones that's gonna reduce my risk of having cola or surviving Kobo, because they hear all the media is saying that diabetes is a risk factor. So they want to know, is there something I can do? And what specifically, so it has really made an increase awareness that it's just not okay to just kind of halfway control your blood sugar halfway be in it. Now you need to be in the game real. And, you know, a lot of people are saying that they didn't realize that they weren't healthy, or that be, you know, this is not healthy.
Shireen: One of the things that you just mentioned with the, you know, impact of COVID on people of color, you know, diabetes has always disproportionately impacted people of color. Now. COVID is just amplifying that Milwaukee County last year declared racism as a public health crisis. Has this helped initiate change or create more equity within the healthcare system in Milwaukee? And if so, how? So?
Yvonne: I would say the potential to create change is there, because they just started it. And it is an enormous toll to take, enormous kind of journey to take people on is that we're at the beginning, was starting to happen his policies. Say for instance, the Milwaukee County now has a policy that every single department has to reevaluate all their policy policies and procedures using a racial equity lens to say, how is this affecting people of color? How is this affecting our hiring practices? How is this affecting our staff as we go forward? And the same thing has happened at the state level awareness training, lots of trainings are going on right now. I conducted an awareness training with the Wisconsin Public Health retirees because I'm chair of the retiree group. And that retiree group is people who have been working in public health, but also people still have influence in many of the churches, many of the public health settings. And our, our main issue all across the state. I'm doing the retirees but other people are doing other different groups like nursing and your community health workers, is how does the impact of whiteness affect achieving racial equity? And so when you start looking cross culturally, you know, I'm leading a group of high percentage white professionals in addressing their awareness of whiteness. And we think that everybody's, you know, attentionally No, no, sometimes they have made what they call white normality. That, that's the norm. So the way they see it is normal. But then, if you have people of color that is disproportionately affected by racism, health disparities in equity and justice, in so many different places like housing, hiring, education, in all these different areas, and yet it's not even seen by some people, as an Issue, you can't get real change to happen. with George Floyd and the different shootings we just had last night, a young man had some, some domestic situation going on, police were called, they shot him in the bag seven times, and Kenosha is on fire. And it's you know, so when you look across the country and things are raging all over the place, there's a trauma, a trauma, even if you're not involved, there's a trauma that's about so now you're putting trauma and pain on top of trying to promote health promotion, trying to say we should do this, we should do that when, in essence, people are filling in almost survival mode. Meaning that after a while, I don't have time to care about that, when this is happening over here. And although people you know, know, logically, that even though you know, I don't know that person, but it's in your face, it's happened in real time, you can see the videos, you're in the scene. Sometimes I have to tell people, and I had to do it myself that I can't keep up with everything, that mentally, physically, emotionally, sometimes you have to pull back. And that's hard, because, you know, we want to support our young people. Sometimes I think the older people don't support, you know, but it's so much stress and trauma within and over time. I tell people, you can have a little PTSD, I feel like I have a little PTSD from racism, that's super a poll in polls, right on top of everything. I tend to want to say, though, that, you know, we, you know, there is hope, if we can make changes, so I stay in the game to make the changes to be the voice to lead the discussions, you know, and it's not always been easy, because some people don't even understand that, you know, they don't understand the impact that's going on with racism. And so that's where the awareness comes in. We're in the awareness mode, we're in the assessment mode. And then in a few minutes, and I was saying, give us another couple of months, we'll be in that action phase of actually changing things for the better. One thing that did get changed recently, they demoted the police chief, because of handling of the racial issues in the area. And so change is gonna come some may like it, some may not. But change is gonna come and I try to stay involved and stay in the in, in the action of it all in a way that I can.
Shireen: You talked about the impact of trauma, and just so our listeners know, so you're, you're also getting your doctorate, which is amazing. And you're doing a lot of research around the impact of social capital, on food insecurity. So I'd love to learn a little bit more from you about how you define social capital and then how it impacts food insecurity.
Yvonne: Social capital is really a term that can encompass a lot of different things. From the structural side of social capital meanings, your connectedness to others connectedness, to your environment to to what they call bridging social capital, when you're connected to your physicians that can refer you are dieticians, that can refer you to what your community have and and what type of connectedness you have to like governmental food safety net organizations or to your informal sources like your your community supported research, agriculture, or your your farmers markets and that type of thing. So your connectedness to others, is the wealth of support that you can have. And if you are not socially connected, and socially isolated, many times you do not even eat the same, you don't have the same ability to provide for yourself. And so that's the type of research that I've been looking at and COVID-19 have been really impacting that is really cut down on our connections. And so that's something that when it comes to food security, that we have to look at because so say for instance, even transportation to get to even a food pantry has been cut down. The food giveaways. It's one thing to have the food that people are getting food back and another thing to be able to access it. So how connected are you to be able to access transportation? That's even part of what I'm studying as part of the environment of social capital.
Shireen: Interesting. And so on top of that, you are getting the Griot award for having a stellar career and the ability to storytelling the way that you do. And you have even on this on this podcast today, how does it make you feel to get this award? And what does it really mean for you?
Yvonne: I am very, very much humbled by getting this award. This is a award given by the National Organization of Blacks and Dietetics and nutrition called Nova dine. And it is a group of dietitians from all over the country dietitians of color. And one of the things that is so important to know is that many times, African American dietitians don't get the recognition that they really deserve. Some people don't even know we exist. And in the Dietetic Association, we're only about 2%, of the whole Dietetic Association. And so this is really an award by my peers. And I am so humbled by receiving that award.
Shireen: That's lovely. Congratulations on, on that.
Yvonne: Thank you.
One of the, and we're actually running out toward the end of this episode here. So we'd love to close the episode by thanking you for your time, which, thank you so much. And really letting our listeners know how they can learn more about your work and stay connected.
Yvonne: Well, I have many times, excuse me, I'm on LinkedIn. So you can look for me under why eat right. And now the thing is that I do feel like, if anyone wants to email me, they could email me at why eat right? Why isn't yellow, EA t Ri firstname.lastname@example.org. And then you know, we can connect there. I am on Twitter, I am on Facebook as well. You can look for me under ye right. And then you know, you can see some of my work. But just keep in mind that this is an ongoing mission for me. And I would appreciate anyone who would like to get back in touch with me in the future.
Shireen: That's lovely. And what we'll also do is we'll link up your email, your social media, all those, all those different things within our show notes, so, so folks can access it there. So with that, Yvonne once again, thank you so much for coming on. We truly appreciate your time and for sharing your, your knowledge with us, and for all the great work that you're doing in the community and specifically for people with diabetes.
Yvonne: Thank you. Thank you for having me.