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Like many of us, Anjali Prasertong assumed dietitians mostly worked at hospitals and schools, directing the preparation of nutritious food and educating either patients or children on the importance of a balanced diet. But a Craiglist employment listing seeking a dietitian for a women’s homeless shelter helped her realize that dietitians are more broadly needed in the community—particularly in disenfranchised and BIPOC communities, where residents often face systemic obstacles in accessing healthy food and obtaining an education on how to nourish their bodies. To tackle these larger issues, Prasertong became a registered dietitian focused on public health.
“I prefer to focus on the systems level,” Prasertong explains. “Changing the conditions for everyone rather than just looking at the individual.”
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In May 2021, Prasertong moved with her family from New Orleans to Denver, where she started Antiracist Dietitian a few months ago. The Substack email newsletter features deep-dive essays on tackling racial equity in our food systems, as well as fun, light-hearted articles highlighting topics that bring her joy and facilitate connection. For individuals and businesses wanting to operationalize racial equity in their projects, Prasertong also offers diversity, equity, and inclusion coaching as well as seminars and workshops on topics related to food justice, healthy equity, and antiracism.
“Success would look like starting conversations on topics that people might not think about. Some of the topics [I’ve covered] have already done that,” Prasertong says. “[Such as] the different ways that food systems can intersect with gentrification. I wrote about how whiteness shows up in local food systems.”
In her journey to become a registered dietitian (RD), Prasertong worked with Propeller, a New Orleans–based nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs tackle environmental and social justice. There, she helped BIPOC and allied food entrepreneurs run a healthy corner store program in a predominantly Black neighborhood and make their products more racially equitable. The role opened her eyes to the systemic racial injustice of SNAP benefits and the impact that the history of slavery has on the community’s health and food challenges. She realized that alleviating nutritional deficiencies went hand in hand with combatting systemic racism. And most notably, she found that the traditional dietitian curriculum completely ignored these issues. Students were rarely given the tools and solutions needed to address racial inequity in America’s food systems. These realizations led her to launch Antiracist Dietitian to help bridge the gap.
On her blog, Prasertong highlights ways in which some existing food systems are inherently inequitable. For instance, she wrote an article about how requiring school meals to include a carton of milk is a Eurocentric bias, since 65 percent of people worldwide are lactose-intolerant. She also explored how an emphasis on the morality of the local food movement excludes people of color. In the future, she also hopes to write about diet culture, fatphobia, and America’s obsession with weight loss. “Instead, [we should] focus on healthy relationships with food and accepting fatness,” she says. “Unfortunately, a lot of the faces pushing for these changes are white. I’m curious to write about the anti-diet perspective of Black dietitians.”
Since launching Antiracist Dietitian, Prasertong has seen steady growth in both free and paid subscriptions. Even more importantly, the newsletter has given her a platform for connection. In the three months since she first hit publish, Prasertong has been interviewed for Vox, gotten involved with the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council, and has been asked to present nutrition topics through an antiracist lens to students at Metro State University of Denver in February.
Prasertong is hopeful about Colorado’s efforts to tackle racial inequity within food systems. “There are a lot of really enthusiastic and committed [public officials and dietitians here] who want to improve the food systems and talk openly about equity and sustainability,” she says.
She sees the passing of Proposition FF: Healthy School Meals for All in the 2022 election as great progress and highlights the work that different dietitians in the Denver area are doing—such as running healthy snack programs for children in low-income communities through recreation centers and local libraries. She hopes that continuing to bring these issues to light, sparking conversation, and opening minds will lead to policy changes that bring us closer to a food system that provides health food and nutritional education to everyone, regardless of race, class, or ethnicity.
Antiracist Dietitian is currently $6/month or $60/year for those wanting to support Prasertong’s work. There’s an additional option to become a Founding Member at $160/year to support free subscriptions for dietitian students and interns.
6 Ways Individuals and Businesses Can Support Racial Equity in the Food System and Beyond, According to Anjali Prasertong
1. The first step is always acknowledging the problem. For that, it’s helpful to take anti-racism training. Prasertong recommends Undoing Racism by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. These trainings explore how class, power, and institutional and individual relationships inspire us to think about race and racism. Once students can use a common language, they’re able to identify problems and effectively communicate and advocate for change.
2. For further context for how racial relationships have manifested throughout history, download and explore the History Colorado app, which highlights the stories and impact of Black communities in Colorado. Most of the issues we face today around racial inequality have deep roots, and addressing them is incredibly important to making sustainable change.
3. Attend local food policy councils and find out if there are policies that you can support to make your city and/or neighborhood more equitable. Food policy councils are typically commissioned by state or local governments and attempt to influence community members with education, grassroots advocation, and programs. Visit the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council website or browse this directory for opportunities to get involved.
1. Ensure hiring practices are equitable and create opportunities for employees of all backgrounds to be heard and thrive. It’s important for even small businesses to model behavior that respects and acknowledges racial equity, not just for other businesses, but also for employees. This helps people understand that a safe, productive space exists for them in the workplace.
2. Level the playing field by offering your experience and expertise to mentor BIPOC entrepreneurs and peers, who often face more barriers to success than their white counterparts. Deliberately seek out mentees who have different backgrounds and lived experiences than yours.
3. Partner and support local nonprofits addressing racial equity, either through monetary donations or volunteer hours. Put your businesses’ reputation and influence behind these nonprofits to amplify their message and spread their work throughout the community.