Four questions on food 10/15/2018
Dr. Jennifer Brady is a registered dietitian and assistant professor in Applied Human Nutrition at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A frequent contributor to CBC Radio, she provides practical advice on what it really means to eat better.

On Monday, October 29, 2018, Dr. Brady will join Dr. Trace MacKay, Foodfit Program Development Consultant, for a webinar, What Does “Good Food” Mean? Making Sense of Dietary Science, where she will help us cut through the confusion of diet study headlines so we can better understand what makes good dietary science. Learn more and register here.

We asked Dr. Brady about the consequences of "nutritionism" in dietary science, about whether she follows dietary guidelines and about the connection between dietary science and its precursor, home economics in the fight for equity, sustainability and safe food.

There is a thread of critique within dietary science of what is known as “nutritionism.”  Can you briefly say what this is, and how you see it manifesting in trends at the moment?

Nutritionism was coined by Gyrogy Scrinis in 2002 in an essay titled Sorry Marge, but was popularized by journalist, Michael Pollan in his book In Defence of Food. Scrinis argues that nutritionism is an ideology, or worldview, that reduces food to its nutrient component parts. Through the lens of nutritionism foods matter only for the nutrient(s) they contain. According to Scrinis, nutritionism causes a host of problems, primarily an open door for food manufacturers to sell food products with wildly outsized health claims.

You're a strong critic of how dietary science is both conducted and framed for people, saying that ideas like “healthy food” and health itself are heavily influenced by economic and social factors. There's an expression in philosophy, “Even the idealist (the philosopher who thinks reality is an illusion) looks both ways before she crosses the street.” Do you “look both ways” when it comes to dietary advice, despite the fact that there 's so much bias embedded in mainstream dietary science?

If you're asking if I follow dietary advice, then my answer is a strong ‘sort of.’ I would say that I take aspects of dietary guidance under advisement, but I vet those guidelines by figuring out what works for my body and my life circumstances. So, in brief, I don’t count things, whether that is food group servings, calories, grams, or pounds on a scale. However, my experience tells me that I feel better when I eat a variety of foods (including fruit and veg) at semi-regular times throughout the day according to my hunger cues. This is generally what nutrition science and dietary advice bears out; there is no one healthy diet.

What drew you to dietary science in the first place? And what goes through your head when you're shopping at the grocery store at the end of a long day?

If you'd asked me I why I went from completing a BA in Women’s Studies onto becoming a dietitian, I would likely have said, “because I love food, and like science.” However, I, like many other women, and particularly like many other nutrition professionals, also had food and body issues. Surprisingly, studying nutrition exacerbated the negative relationship with food and eating that I brought with me into my BSc. My PhD allowed me to unpack the history and culture of the dietetic profession in Canada, which I believe, is connected to a view of food, eating, bodies, and expert knowledge that is not serving our greater need for well-being, equity, and justice. When it comes to eating I don’t know that I think any differently than most others out there. I have two young kids, a busy job, and a partner; balancing taste, convenience, allergies, preferences, budget, and time are priorities. I am not reading food labels and consulting guidelines as I wearily walk through grocery store aisles. I do often think about Marjorie DeVault’s work, Feeding the Family: The Social Organization of Caring as Gendered Work.

You were once a dietitian. What would you say are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the profession?

I still am a dietitian, though my focus is on teaching and research not clinical or public health practice. The profession’s greatest strength is the growing group of dietitians that are actively engaged in advancing health equity, and understanding the complexities of food and nutrition. As a historian of dietetics, I think that the profession’s greatest weakness is its disconnect with its own history. Dietetics emerged from home economics, and its development is not only a juicy story, but one that is essential to understand if we are to chart a course for the future of dietetics, particularly insofar as dietetics’ role in social and food justice issues is concerned. In fact, today’s alternative food and food justice movements are working on some of the very things that the earliest home economists were fighting for; equitable, sustainable, safe food for everybody.

To hear more from Jennifer and get practical solutions to better understand dietary science, please join us for our October 29 webinar! Register here.