Honoring My Multicultural Heritage Through Food

Honoring My Multicultural Heritage Through Food
Photo courtesy of Roxana Ehsani

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.Honoring My Multicultural Heritage Through Food -

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.

The team behind Food & Nutrition Magazine® aims to amplify the voices of people of color and other underrepresented individuals in nutrition and dietetics and highlight the experiences of RDNs, NDTRs, dietetic interns and nutrition and dietetics students. Our goal is not only to stand in solidarity, but also help inform our readers and increase awareness about the importance of diversity in the field of nutrition and dietetics. We know it’s not enough, but we hope it’s a step in the right direction that will support meaningful conversations and a positive change in the profession.

Roxana Ehsani on FacebookRoxana Ehsani on InstagramRoxana Ehsani on Twitter
Roxana Ehsani
Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and a National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise from Virginia Tech and a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Pittsburgh and completed her dietetic internship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Roxana is tri-lingual, having grown up speaking a mix of German, Farsi and English with her family, studied Spanish in grade school and even provided nutrition counseling in Spanish at her previous professional role. When Roxana isn’t busy spreading food and nutrition knowledge, you’re likely to find her creating new recipes in her kitchen or running outside. Roxana has been a life-long athlete, and former collegiate athlete.