"In those moments of being teased about my food and culture, it made me feel embarrassed — but it also made me stronger. It reminded me that food is more than just fuel."
By Grace Derocha, MBA, RD, CDCES
I am a first generation Filipino-American registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist. I have been an RD for over 22 years and love the education and experiences I have had throughout my career. Moreover, I am proud to be in a helping profession. Even as a child, I have been a person that wanted to care for and help others.
Being born and raised in Michigan, in the suburbs of Detroit, by strong, smart and "old-school" Filipino parents was a unique, messy and, in hindsight, beautiful experience. Where I grew up there were not many people that looked like me, nor did anyone really know about the Philippines. So trying to explain my heritage was always tricky.
The school lunches that my family would pack for me made me the subject of many jokes. "What is that?" "What is that smell?" "Why don't you have a sandwich?" Today, I would do anything to have homemade chicken adobo with jasmine rice, pancit or ramen for lunch. In those moments of being teased about my food and culture, it made me feel embarrassed — but it also made me stronger. It reminded me that food is more than just fuel. It is culture and traditions. It is nourishment, celebrations, family and love. If you know a Filipino person, you know that they will feed you any chance they get.
My "Why" for Becoming a Registered Dietitian
My dad was a brilliant, hard-working surgeon. He took great care of his patients and our family. He was fun, witty and had the best laugh, but didn't take care of himself enough. He always wanted me to be a doctor. Always. Unfortunately, he passed away from a stroke secondary to diabetes when I was 13 years old.
When I went to Michigan State University (Go Green!) for my undergraduate degrees, I started off pre-med with the plan to follow in his footsteps like he wanted. After taking my first nutrition class and meeting with my advisor, I changed my mind. I realized the significant role nutrition can play in helping people live longer, happier and healthier lives. I thought, if I could help prevent a child from losing a parent so young like I did, then being a dietitian is what I want to do.
Throughout my career, I have dealt with judgment and discrimination for being a woman, being Asian or both. I always remind myself of the things that my parents taught me: to listen to my gut; have courage and be kind; stay open to learning; work hard; and use my voice even if it shakes.
As an RD spokesperson for many years and most recently a National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, I am so proud to be a voice and represent as an Asian-American dietitian. I never saw many people like me on TV or on the news or being highlighted in positive ways. Now I get to be that for my kids and others. I think my dad would be proud of me.
This content originally appeared in Food & Nutrition Magazine®.
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