“What IS that?” said the girl sitting next to me at the lunch table. I looked down at my khoresht-e bodemjan (Persian eggplant stew) and then looked to my right at her perfectly cut peanut butter sandwich. I was 8 years old when I first realized that I ate differently from others; homemade stew vs. peanut butter sandwiches, unsalted mixed seeds and nuts vs. chips, sulfur-free dried apricots vs. fruit snacks. My Persian mother has always stressed the importance of eating fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables, adhering to a predominantly Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diet. Noticing these differences first raised my curiosity regarding the value of food beyond survival. Although at 8 years old I didn’t appreciate these differences in food culture, it has contributed to my motivation to seek more information on food composition and nutritional value.
I entered a liberal arts college in search of a suitable career path since I was unsure of exactly what I wanted to focus my studies on in the health science field. Studying abroad in India, my involvement in the Food Recovery Network organization, and researching my senior thesis helped to reinforce my interest in nutrition. When I studied abroad in Banaras, India working for the non-governmental organization, NIRMAN, I had the opportunity to teach a nutrition course to a 7th grade class. While teaching this class, I realized the concepts I learned didn’t fully apply since the environment, culture, and belief systems were very different from that of the U.S. In addition, their community was facing more serious issues like severe malnourishment. Poverty and hunger were so prevalent in Banaras that, if you were eating something in the streets, children would pull on your hand and with their other hand touch their own mouth, in hopes that you would offer a bite to them. These experiences made me painfully aware of the excessive amount of food we waste and how beneficial it would be if we could distribute the excess food to those in need. Coming back from study abroad, with this in mind, I helped form a Food Recovery Network organization at the college. This organization worked to distribute the excess food from the school cafeteria meals to local shelters in the area.
I’m currently a candidate for a master’s in public health in nutritional sciences with the hope of becoming a registered dietitian. In my first semester of this program, I completed a nutritional assessment on child malnourishment in Banaras, India. Through my research, it was evident that breastfeeding support and encouragement could assist in combating this glaring issue. In one of my most recent courses on maternal and child nutrition, we spent a substantial portion of the class discussing the importance of breastfeeding. Specifically, we discussed the need for the promotion of several key breastfeeding practices including early initiation, exclusivity for the first six months and increased breastfeeding duration. In addition, this course stressed the invaluable benefits breastfeeding provides for both the infant as well as the lactating mother such as development of the infant’s immune system and lowered risk of disease for the mother. Our professor shared a quotation with us that has stuck in my mind since:
“What if governments had a proven, cost-effective way to save babies’ lives, reduce rates of malnutrition, support children’s health, increase educational attainment and grow productivity?
They do: It’s called breastfeeding. And it is one of the best investments nations can make in the lives and futures of their youngest members – and in the long-term strength of their societies.”
– Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director
This all has led me to a summer internship with LiquidGoldConcept. This company recognizes the need for breastfeeding education and training and has created an innovative hands-on training tool to assist in a comprehensive education training strategy. As someone who likes to look at things from a more global perspective, I found it empowering to learn that the idea for this company came from Anna’s own experiences abroad. My long-term goal in the nutrition field is to work for an international non-profit organization either in a clinical setting or as a nutrition educator. I am excited to see how the work we accomplish this summer will contribute to this vision.
I never thought that an initial embarrassment at lunchtime in second grade would lead to this career path. Who knew that an eggplant stew could be so fateful?