Posted on 10/28/2009 at 04:27:46 PM by Student BloggerBy: Harini S.
As I write this, I am in the throes of preparing for a long-awaited vacation back to my home country. Apart from all the sounds, smells and experiences that I have missed since I was last home, one of the things that I most look forward to is the food. Despite having lived away from my home country for over half my life, I find that my food preferences, like that of most immigrants, are largely unaffected by geography. Indeed, as Michael Pollan suggests in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, “...the immigrant's refrigerator is the very last place to look for signs of assimilation.”(1)
With the increasing availability of foods from around the world, it is easier than ever for immigrants to retain their ties to their homelands through their respective cuisines. A mouth-watering falafel or a savory samosa – or at least the ingredients to prepare them -- are only an ethnic store away. So, you ask, how exactly is this culinary tour of the world relevant to nutritionists?
I would argue that it is very relevant. To illustrate, let me cite a recent episode of when my husband was asked to meet with a dietician to help him evaluate his diet. When asked for a 24 hour diet recall, my husband found himself coming up with creative ways of describing the traditional Indian meal that he had eaten the night before. Having lived in a rather cosmopolitan college town, his dietician was able to decipher much of his food recall, but she still struggled with providing him with healthy snack options that would please his decidedly un-American palate.
This got me thinking about the notion of world cuisines and the relative impressionability of American gastronomy. As the already diverse American cuisine continues to be shaped by foods that immigrants bring with them, dieticians and nutrition educators will also have to incorporate knowledge about these fares into their repertoire. This applies not only to doctors and registered dieticians, but also to chemists, food scientists and nutrition policy makers. As ethnic foods gain in popularity, food scientists will no doubt be interested in understanding food preferences in order to come up with products that appeal to evolving tastes. Additionally, if the increasingly common inclusion of hummus platters and lentil soups in American pub menus is any indication of the times, software programs designed to help calculate nutritive intake will have to incorporate such foods into their databases. Nutrition policy makers will also have to account for the array of foods that immigrants bring to the American table.
Perhaps at present, such complicated food choices are restricted to small populations. However, as American gastronomy continues to incorporate world tastes, knowledge about world foods will become extremely relevant to guiding the dietary choices of the American Middle Class.