“White food or white families eat the standard that their way of eating should be mimic or is the standard and black families eat like their food is not the standard and it's always unhealthy. They really don't eat a lot of greens, leafy vegetables, which is far from the truth...” “...We need to learn about each other's culture so we can become that mixing bowl that they want us to be and with appreciation of each other's culture…”
In today’s episode, we are pleased to welcome Charmaine Jones to the podcast as we delve into her impactful contributions to the field of nutrition. Her commitment to challenging the misrepresentation and stereotyping of Black foods is commendable. Join us as we explore Charmaine’s journey, her innovative, holistic approaches to nutrition counseling, and her steadfast dedication to fostering diversity and inclusion in the world of dietetics.
Charmaine Jones is a Registered Dietitian and Owner of Food Jonezi and Food Jonezi Friendz. Her expertise includes personalized nutrition counseling and the development of corporate wellness programs. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of District of Columbia. She is known for her article that was acknowledged by the Huffington’s Post in 2018 called, “Do I Have to Eat Like White People.”
[0:33] Shireen: In today’s episode, we are pleased to welcome Charmaine Jones to the podcast as we delve into her impactful contributions to the field of nutrition. Her commitment to challenging the misrepresentation and stereotyping of Black foods is commendable. Join us as we explore Charmaine’s journey, her innovative holistic approaches to nutrition counseling, and her steadfast dedication to fostering diversity and inclusion in the world of dietetics. Stay tuned.
[1:05] Shireen: Charmaine Jones is a registered dietitian and owner of Food Jonesy and Food Jonesy Friends. Her expertise includes personalized nutrition counseling and the development of corporate wellness programs. She’s also an adjunct professor at the University of District of Columbia. She is known for her article that was acknowledged by Huffington Post in 2018 called, “Do I Have to Eat Like White People?” Welcome, Charmaine.
[1:32] Charmaine Jones: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
[1:35] Shireen: Hey, a pleasure is absolutely ours. Sherman, as we dive into the topic, and we’ve got some interesting things we’re going to talk about here today around stereotypes in nutrition and dietetics, I do want to take a step back and just really learn a little bit more about you. Can you tell us more about your journey in the field of nutrition and how it has really led you to focus on personalized nutrition counseling and then some of the work that you’re also doing on the corporate wellness side?
[2:00] Charmaine: Yeah, absolutely. Again, I’m Charmaine Jones and I am a registered dietitian in both in the Atlanta, Georgia area, but primarily in the Washington, D.C. Area. So growing up and this is what actually led me to my journey to the dietetic film. So growing up, I was, I always used to hear like people would say, do I have to eat like white people? You know, why do I have to eat like white people? Oh, I don’t want to eat like that. I want to eat. My foods that I enjoy at that time, I really did not understand what they meant by that until I became a registered dietitian. So just to let you know, in the dietetics field, there is less than 3 percent of black dietitians for one. But there, of course, in minority communities, we have the most prevalent chronic diseases, black people, right? Or people of color. What actually really led me into this field is when I started my internship at WIC and I was under a white registered dietitian and I was helping her develop some nutrition programs for black women and I noticed that there was some type of disconnection there. And black women at that time were not able to identify or connect with this white dietician woman. So I was a little bit caught off guard because to me, in my head, she’s a dietician. She should be able to relate to all people. And once I started to really get into it and study, I was actually thought like, huh, it’s interesting because Some white professionals, which are, you know, prevalent in the medical field or any health field. They are literally teaching black communities how to eat, but forgetting about traditional foods. About their traditional foods. Let me go back to school. And become a registered dietitian. So I am able to help my people learn how to eat healthy and I can truly understand where they’re coming from because I know how we eat and how we love to prepare our foods. I would love to be part of that initiative. So I went back to school and I became a registered dietitian and that’s how I started Food Jonesy.
[4:40] Shireen: Lovely. You know, you did a presentation at Yale University’s Black Students Solidarity Conference. It really brought attention to this misrepresentation of what you said, right, like misrepresentation of Black foods in the field of nutrition and dietetics at large. Could you share some key points from this presentation that you did and really elaborate on why addressing the issue is so important?
[5:06] Charmaine: Yes. So when, as I’m practicing, I noticed that a lot of people come to my office. And before we can even get into the conversation, the first thing they say is, I don’t want to eat like that. I just don’t, I just don’t want to eat like that. I don’t even want to be here. Let alone. You want to tell me. How, you know, just to eat salads and nuts and fruits and stuff, right? So when I wrote this article, I had all of those things in my mind, but I also had in my mind where did this misperception come from that black people food is wrong or is unhealthy. You know, why is society or everyone thinks that, you know, if black people food is the worst. Where did this misconception come from? So I did a little bit of research and I realized when I went back into like history where the government started to develop the food pyramid and these food and marketing agencies were developing food advertisements, they were advertised, you know, white families with these healthy meals, right? So their healthy, well balanced meals will look like great portion of green leafy vegetables. They will have good amount of meat and they will have a small amount or the recommended amount of some type of starch and a glass of milk. All right. Now, if you look at the ads for black families, They were have a big plate of food, but the plate of food will consist of small amounts of green leafy vegetables, large portions of meat and large portions of some type of substance that look like mashed potatoes and a glass of milk. So to me, it made this underlying and misperception that. White food or white families eat the standard that their way of eating should be mimic or is the standard and black families eat like their food is not the standard and it’s always unhealthy. They really don’t eat a lot of greens, leafy vegetables, which is far from the truth. So once I started to research, I’m like, wow, this is where this misperception come from. This is why everyone is so confused. And even though I didn’t start the conversation because there are so many health advocates, Black foodists, Black health advocates out there that’s, you know, always fighting, letting people know that Black foods is healthy. I believe that I wanted to add and contribute my story, you know, of what I was experiencing and how I grew up. You know, even when I think back of when I grew up, you know, In a cafeteria, I will see this white young student with a glass of milk and food that we didn’t even eat in, you know, in my, in my household. So it was that misperception that I believe that the government has something to do with it. You know that food and marketing ads had to do with it. All of those things created this perception that black foods.
[8:41] Shireen: And to that end, the title of your article that we mentioned earlier in your bio, which is, do I have to eat like white people? It really suggests this broader conversation about cultural perceptions of food, which is you’re talking about. What really inspired you to write this article? And, you know, you mentioned that personal story and what impact do you hope that it can really have on challenging stereotypes in this field of dietetics?
[9:18] Charmaine: Right. So, you know, there has been an impact already. Um, there are many black dietitians out there that is really educating the communities that cultural foods are healthy, you know, and as a matter of fact, you can learn from other cultures. And you can take other like ingredients from other cultures and incorporate them into your traditional foods. And they have some very great health benefits, right? So the impact is have already started, but to continue making a greater impact, we still have to advocate. We still have to educate. I think education is so important. I think there is a lack of knowledge. And so many different cultures about black foods or people of color foods anyways, I think the more we have open conversations and real open conversation and be genuine and accepting of what it is. The feedback may be, I think we can start having an impact showing that giving more people an opportunity. When I say more opportunities like black dietitians in inviting more black dietitians or black advocates in these spaces where they can, you know, make a change or address some of these issues from a political standpoint, you know, opening up more doors and inviting to the table table and giving us the opportunity to be part of those conversations. I mean, we know our foods and we know how they should be prepared. Most importantly, we know how to connect with the community and a lot of food organization come into disadvantaged communities, minority communities, and set up shop just to get grant money and just don’t know how to connect every lay to the community they’re trying to serve.
[11:22] Shireen: Yeah. So I was going to say, which actually leads me to my next question, which was around, you know, the crux of what you’re saying is really, there’s a lot of work to be done to really educate. Right around diversity and inclusion of cultural foods. And like you said, like those foods are not bad. Is there a standard has been set with a very different population that doesn’t represent the entire population. And notably here, you know, when we’re talking about different groups, we have to take their culture into account. You, in fact, have a podcast to this very end called misrepresentation of cultural foods. Charmaine, help us understand what are some of those common misrepresentations that you’ve encountered and how do you really address that through the podcast and even in your work?
[12:13] Charmaine: So as a black dietitian, you know, we have encountered. Plenty of barriers being prejudged. There are so many going through my internship as a black dietetic students. There’s a stereotypes there. The podcast that we created addresses those issues. You know, every I’m pretty sure every black dietitian have a story of being, you know, unfairly treated or they experienced. the professor playing favorites or playing favorites with the other white students or a student naively say something that is culturally inappropriate. So with our podcast, when we originally created our podcast, we started out bringing health advocates to our podcast to discuss these serious issues that was going on in the dietetic field. But we did a change of directions. We wanted to start creating like skits and to act out these real life situations where people could say, you know what, that really happened to me back in my internship. So I have experienced body shaming, you know, as a dietician and even as a black dietician, you may be considered a little bit bigger than the normal white dietician. You know, my hips may be a little bit bigger. I may be a little thicker in a little area, you know? So as a black dietician, I don’t fit that standard as a typical White dietitian who is white and, you know, petite, you know, I’m not the typical dietitian. So that is an issue within our dietetic field to, you know, A lot of students, a lot of black students probably have experienced, again, the professor playing favorites. I know one of my co hosts, she said she experienced one of her white peers saying something very ignorant when it came to her food, you know, so these stories are shared through skits and in the sequence of how it happened. So people can be able to identify and not only identify these issue, but try to address them in a positive way and then also help to educate. Those who are, you know, ignorant to the fact that to certain things or who are cultural incompetent when addressing people of color. So that’s what our podcast is about. It’s about addressing issues, real life issues that people are experiencing positively and educating people who really want to learn how to. Be part of this mission of breaking down barriers.
[15:24] Shireen: You know, you mentioned part of my next question, but I’d like for you to tell me a little bit more. Have you encountered resistance or pushback when addressing the misrepresentation of black foods in the field of nutrition? You know, you mentioned a colleague who saw some of that firsthand. How do you really navigate these challenges? Yet be able to promote constructive dialogue.
[15:54] Charmaine: So the very first time I really had that experience is when “Do you have to eat like white people?” was really by the Huffington Post. So I thought the article was well written and When the article was released, I honestly thought I was gonna get some good feedback, but that wasn’t the case I got some really negative comments, you know, I got comments from All sorts from, you know, I knew that this black person was going to say, how can food become a race? So everything became a race issue, right? I mean, we had comments coming through our website that was just really absurd, but it started a conversation, right? And what I had to do was, as much as I was very shocked by this, I still had to keep going and still own up to the truth that these are issues the nutrition field is experiencing. And because it opened up a can of worms, that means this discussion needs to continue being had until it’s resolved. You know, I don’t know if it’s going to ever be resolved because racism will never ever go away, but it’s a conversation. That needs to be continuously had until we get to some type of mutual agreement.
[17:24] Shireen: That’s helpful. I do want to get to two more questions. I know we’re getting to time. I’m going to try to squeeze two questions in next for you, Charmaine. You know, you’ve partnered with various organizations through the work that you do. In fact, you know, serving the DC area, specifically the DC Medicaid program, and you really presented diverse audiences there. How do you approach tailoring nutrition recommendations to different groups, considering then all the different cultural and individual differences.
[17:52] Charmaine: Yeah. So first you have to be authentic. You know, I have to be authentic and passionate about who I am, you know, and when any time you present to a various audience or you have a target audience, you have to do research. You have to know who your target audience. It’s, you know, you just can’t go in there and talk about what you should do and project my traditional beliefs on someone else. So just learning the background of that target audience, learning what they like, learning what their nutritional needs are. It makes a world of difference and it helps me to form good meal plans and provide great recommendations.
[18:37] Shireen: You know, given your involvement in the academic setting as an adjunct professor, how can educational institutions really play a role in changing and this narrative around black foods and nutrition education and research?
[18:51] Charmaine: So with educational institution, I, you know, I don’t believe in just having a chapter of on cultural competency. I think that should be a class that should be a semester class that. Everyone needs to take because you’re going to interact with other cultures regardless. And it’s not only learning about the black cultures, but black culture also need to learn about more about white culture and more about other cultures out there. The Hispanic culture, you know, the Asian American cultures, we need to learn about each other’s culture so we can become that mixing bowl that they want us to be and with appreciation of each other’s culture. So I think it does start with the education. I mean, actually it starts at home with an educational institution because it has such an impact and influence in people’s life can also be a driving force in making sure that these courses are being provided to these students or offered to these students.
[19:56] Shireen: And so also what I hear you say, even in your response earlier, is that bring representation to the table, right? Have those diverse voices to the table, bring that diversity so that as we educate the next generation, be it in dietetics, across health fields, we’re able to bring those diverse perspectives as well.
[20:15] Charmaine: That’s right. Absolutely.
[20:17] Shireen: Okay. With that, I did lie. I do have one last question for you, Charmaine. After this very insightful conversation, can you tell our listeners how they can connect with you and learn more about your work?
[20:29] Charmaine: Yeah, absolutely. You can connect with me on our social media platforms, Food Jonezi, FOOD, J-O-N-E-Z-I. You could connect with us on Instagram. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, to learn more about what we do and also visit our website. You can see what’s coming up and what we have upcoming. So, yeah.
[20:55] Shireen: Awesome. And with that, listeners, we are toward the end of the episode. Charmaine, thank you so very much for your time and for sharing all of this information with us. To our listeners, head over to our social media and answer this quick question. Have you ever come across instances? where cultural foods were inaccurately portrayed in health discussions. Again, just head over to our social media at Yumlish on Facebook, on Instagram, and tell us, have you ever come across instances where cultural foods were inaccurately portrayed in health discussions? We will continue the conversation there. Thank you again, Charmaine, for your time.
[21:32] Charmaine: Thank you so much for having me.