By Yasmine Bouzid
After shelter-in-place orders kept students at home and prevented in-person social activities, virtual events were the only way to connect with classmates. Yasmine Bouzid, the Social Events Coordinator of the Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology (GGNB)’s Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GradSAC), has ensured that GGNB students have had opportunities to connect with fellow graduate students and maintain community during an isolating year through a weekly book club. Along with game nights, documentary viewing parties, and social hours, Yasmine has coordinated these quarterly book clubs as a social activity.
During spring quarter 2020, participants read Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat by Harvey Levenstein. Levenstein discusses the history of food phobias in the United States, which span from tales of the apparent immortality of Bulgarian dairy farmers in the 1800s to crusades against fly infestations in the early 1900s to decades of lipophobia sparked by Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955. Levenstein examines how food attitudes changed over time and how the work of early nutrition scientists played a role.
One of the book club attendees, Joanna Wirkus, a doctoral student in Dr. Gerardo Mackenzie’s lab, reflected:
“Reading the Fear of Food by Harvey Levenstein and discussing it with fellow graduate students in the GGNB was something I looked forward to every week during the spring quarter. This was an opportunity to look at nutrition from a cultural, historical, and colloquial perspective. Despite the author's occasional critical or cynical tone about nutrition science, we enjoyed seeing how many “modern” nutrition trends we see today are not new and often recirculate in the popular culture decade after decade. We have some clues to how these ideas originated, and why some may be more fiction than fact.”
To learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement, former GGNB student Dr. Ashley Tovar suggested the book club continue with an anti-racist reading for the summer. Students voted on a list of titles and decided on How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi weaves in personal anecdotes with historical reflections on the history of the United States to demonstrate how anti-racism is a moment-to-moment practice and how the roots of racist ideas in society are racist policies. This inspired discussions about the lack of diversity in dietetics and frequent exclusion of cultural foods from dietary recommendations. Throughout this reading, the book club compiled a shared document with resources related to anti-racism in nutrition and dietetics. It lists groups that work to improve equity in dietetics, such as Dietitians for Change, #InclusiveDietetics, and Diversify Dietetics, links to articles by BIPOC dietitians relating their experiences in the field, and references other educational resources.
When asked about her book club experience, Dr. Tovar said,
“The GGNB book club provided an excellent opportunity to dive into and discuss books on nutrition science as well as the social issues that we should be aware of as educators. It also gave me an opportunity to get to know those outside of my cohort and lab group. I am thankful for the wonderful individuals who organized these events!”
In fall quarter 2020, the book club read The Health Gap: The Challenge of an Unequal World by Michael Marmot. It begins with Marmot’s disillusionment with healthcare as a medical student in 1960’s Australia. He saw people being treated and sent back to the living conditions that made them sick, causing him to pivot to a career in epidemiology. He speaks about the “social gradient” of health, where better health is experienced with each increased gradation of education, wealth, and resources. With examples of the living conditions of individuals from around the world, he illustrates how features of society are the “causes of causes” that result in ill health. In his efforts to eradicate health inequalities, Marmot explains how economic policies that enact austerity and cut from social programs only widen disparities. Summaries of global report results and in-text figures support his advocacy for creation of fair societies, where children are given the best chance to thrive, equitable and humane working conditions are established, and governments invest in programs that ensure preventive healthcare support for lower and middle income families.
The GGNB plans to continue the book club into the winter quarter 2021 with Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food by Catherine Price, a book selected by GGNB student Mariana Parenti Leal, as it aligns with the graduate group’s core class topics. The book club offers a way for students to interact with their peers while safely social distancing. The readings have provided supplementary information to class material and research, with social perspectives on nutrition topics. Those who join will have a low commitment (1 chapter per week) forum to informally discuss nutrition science and socialize with peers. If you have any future book club ideas, please email your suggestions to GGNB GradSac (firstname.lastname@example.org).