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"I encouraged my clients to share what they grew up eating and what foods were customary to their unique upbringing."

Roxana Ehsani

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By Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

My passion for the field of dietetics started at a very young age. Ever since I can remember, I have been whipping up a new pastry or planning out the next dish. As an adolescent, I dreamed of going to culinary school to become a pastry chef and owning my own bakery.

Preparing food has always brought me lots of pleasure. I never get tired of looking through cookbooks, experimenting with new recipes, trying out new foods or roaming through the supermarket.

I grew up playing outdoors and being part of various sports teams. As I grew older and more competitive, I noticed how food influenced how I performed as an athlete. I started reading more about nutrition and signed up for an introductory nutrition course during my freshman year of college.

My professor was a registered dietitian, and radiated so much passion about food, nutrition, and fitness, that I swiveled my career path towards becoming a registered dietitian. However, I noticed when I entered my dietetics classes, that I looked quite different from most students.

I was the only ethnically diverse student in my classes during undergraduate, graduate school and during my dietetic internship. The most common question I was asked, was “Where are you from?” Sometimes I would respond Washington D.C., or other times I would say I’m from America, but I knew they were really asking about my ethnicity, to which my response has always been, “I am half Persian and half Austrian.” This would always surprise people, and no one could ever correctly guess I was of mixed heritage.

My mom was born in Austria and my father in Iran. They met in Austria and moved to the U.S. before my brother and I were born. They exposed us to their own traditional cultural foods, and I grew up eating a fusion of Iranian and Austrian dishes.

I remember never having a taste for school cafeteria food, so I always requested my mom pack me lunch. She typically would pack me leftovers from dinner, such as a kuku sabzi, a Persian egg and herb frittata, salad olivieh, a Persian salad made of eggs, potatoes and pickles or schnitzel with dartoffelsalat, a customary Austrian dish of fried breaded chicken and potato salad.

At times, I felt embarrassed about my meals, and would hide these from my peers to avoid the dreaded question of, “Ew, what is that?” However, over time, and once I became a credentialed RD, I realized my unique background allowed me to connect more deeply with others from different cultures.

I encouraged my clients to share what they grew up eating and what foods were customary to their unique upbringing. I developed nutrition recommendations for my clients that included traditional staples from their heritage culture. These experiences and my dual heritage background empowered me to encourage my clients and other RDs to proudly share their unique cultural foods, to stop feeling embarrassed, but instead embrace our differences and increase cultural awareness in the field of dietetics.

This content originally appeared in Food & Nutrition Magazine®.

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