A year ago, I stepped foot for the first time in the Midwest… for my honeymoon. Who knew Lake of the Ozarks, a Missouri college Spring Break destination, could serve as a romantic getaway? Before meeting my husband, I never thought as a California girl, I’d see the Midwest in my lifetime, let alone live here. Yet, the Heartland of America has become my home. Here’s what living in the midwest has taught me about food and nutrition:
Food Availability Matters
Where you live truly affects what you eat. I was spoiled in California, where a variety of produce can be found year-round at a reasonable cost. In my rural town in Missouri, we had one grocery store, and the fruit and vegetable selection was expensive, poor quality, and sparse. It’s easy to see why fruit and vegetable intake is so low in this part of the country. No one wants to spend a large part of their income on produce that looks like it’s on its last leg, when there are cheaper, more appealing alternatives.
I also noticed the majority of people I worked with were farm owners. When I ask patients if they ever worry about not having enough food at home, most reassure me that they have a freezer stocked with home-grown beef. Since for most people, what they grow is what they eat; I had to change my nutrition education approach. There’s no sense in telling a cattle farmer to reduce their beef consumption. Instead, we focused on other areas of the diet, such as increasing fiber intake.
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Cooking Demos
As a dietitian, it’s not only my job to teach people what foods to eat but also how to eat them. I remember when one of my patients said they couldn’t see why anyone liked avocados. It turned out he was eating green, unripe avocados! I cannot stress how essential cooking demos are. Most of my patients have a strong aversion to vegetables because the memories of being forced by their mom to eat boiled, leafy greens are still fresh in their minds. Through cooking demos and nutrition classes, I shared my love for roasting vegetables with garlic and olive oil, and in return, they taught me how to cook meat properly.
Don’t Yuck on Someone’s Yum
One of my lowest points as a dietitian was when I made a joke in a nutrition class about eating squirrel. Instead of laughs, I was met with glares and defensive remarks. I had no idea many of my patients ate squirrel meat. I was humbled to say the least. I learned at that moment that food is personal, and when we put down someone’s food choice, we shouldn’t be surprised when the individual takes it as a personal attack.
Custard and Steakburgers Should Be Enjoyed Often
Over the last year, I’ve traded avocados for concrete mixers and steakburgers. A night on the town for us pre-COVID looked like stopping at a steakburger joint then heading to the movies where we’d have the entire movie theater to ourselves. (Small town perks.) My husband and I constantly debate which steakburger restaurant is the best in town, Freddy’s or Culver’s. Culver’s has the crinkly fries I like, but I can’t get enough of Freddy’s fry sauce. What is a steakburger, you ask? It’s essentially a hamburger with thin, crispy edges. Because I’m far away from any Californians, I can say this: I think they’re even better than an In-N-Out burger.
While I occasionally do get homesick, all in all, the midwest is a beautiful community of people, and I’m happy to call it home.