Food plays an integral role in our daily life. Food culture has contributed to a $33 billion business in which one-fifth of Americans admit to eating one diet or another. There needs to be more talk in the food and nutrition industry about how many widely accepted and accepted practices in the industry are racist. Dr. Kera Nyemb-Diop nutrition expert and trainer as well as a food service activist who maintains a popular social media account called Black nutritionist. Nyemb-Diop sat down to discuss her experience in the food industry, why cultural foods are often criticized, and the importance of being more nuanced and inclusive when discussing food.
Janice Gassam Asare: Hello doctor. Nice to talk to you. Could you tell a little more about yourself for readers who may not know you?
Kera Nyemb-Diop: Oh sure. I am Kera Niemb-Diop and I am the creator Black nutritionist, which is a culturally relevant nutrition platform designed to enable black women to eat better and connect with their bodies. And I do this by providing coaching services, resources to help them develop a positive relationship with food and improve their eating habits, and of course, restoring the black food culture. I created this platform in 2020, right after George Floyd. I felt the need to use my talent and contribute to the collective effort needed to heal, empower and celebrate my community.
As well as: Since you’ve been doing this job, what patterns and trends have you noticed, especially being such a public and visible person who makes a lot of social media content? How was the information you shared received?
Nyemb DiopA: Yes, that’s a good question. Wow. I would say that it is generally positive. This is extremely positive. Many women, or the audience I’m trying to target, have come to me saying they feel noticed and it’s so close. That they thought they were alone in this situation. I feel that they will definitely feel less alone. I would say that from this point of view, it is very positive. However, when I started, I had a very strong reaction from my field … I said that my point of view is dangerous. And I almost stopped. When I started sharing my project and what I wanted to do when I made my first posts, I just said “white people’s food” at the top. I was much lighter than today… I was told that I was dangerous, that there was a problem with me, that I needed to stop this sleep-ism, that we did not need to wake up the food.
The hardest part for me was centering the black perspective instead of the white one. I said, “Yes, I have to pull myself together and not focus on the white point of view, but really focus on the black point of view … clearly understand my goal, my vision, my mission.” Every time I posted, I had to breathe and I was like, “Okay, do it.” Mail.’ Because it’s a little scary, because I felt like no one really does it… people come up to me and say that I’m making up stories. I make up stories and no one ever struggles with the problem I’m talking about, when in fact it’s really something that concerns a lot of people. This shame for eating your cultural food, or the guilt for eating cultural food, or the racism around food.
As well as: This leads to the next question I wanted to ask, about how often black food is vilified. I think what people can learn the most from your platform is how many foods that are culturally African American, Caribbean, African and Indigenous foods are often criticized. Could you elaborate on this?
Nyemb Diop: Yeah. Thus, it was vilified in many different ways. I would say that the first one, how it was vilified, I think it is missing. Completely absent from the health narrative. This has never been presented, and I think this is the first way. If you check healthy food, healthy food… you will never see food from the African diaspora on display. I think absence is the first way.
The second way is when people talk about it, always in a negative way. And to say that it either needs to be healed, improved, or it needs to be avoided. Is always. I spoke every day, people in my office told me: “My doctor told me that I need to eat less of the food I ate as a child.” That it’s not good. I should eat less rice… and beans are a problem.” So, the second way. I see another way in which these products are being demonized by ourselves. Like when we treat our food as “slaves’ food”, for example, to really add another layer of shame and associate it with slavery.
As well as: How would you say that people who want to enjoy cultural dishes should integrate them into their daily lifestyle? I think it’s tricky because a lot of people might think that… if you’re Hispanic, maybe the food you ate as a kid, what your healthcare professionals tell you, is high in sodium, and that you need to cut out some things. I know we eat a lot of pork, and my parents have been repeatedly told by doctors that pork is high in sodium, so they should cut it out. How would you say that people who want to enjoy cultural dishes should integrate them into their daily lifestyle?
Nyemb DiopA: So, the way I do it with my clients, because that’s what I do every day… the first thing I would say is to unlearn. Unlearn. Because, for example, when your doctors say “too much salt” or “too much pork”, like someone who worked in France, I think it’s so funny, because French, for example, is considered the best cuisine. People love to show the sausage board… so this board only has pork. Only pork and cheese. He is full of fat. French cuisine is full of sour cream, butter. We eat bread. So, I would like to ask a question… as a nutritionist, I think we should be mindful of our salt intake. But why should blacks be given more attention than whites? If you know what I mean?
I help my clients recognize white supremacy in these statements. And so, first of all, let’s be clear and acknowledge that sometimes there is a lot of anti-Blackness hidden in these statements. Once that’s done, it’s about how we eat. And there is so much nutritional wisdom in our habits. I would say so, for example, we eat white rice, but we always associate white rice with a vegetable that is in the sauce. Our vegetables are not cooked on the side as recommended by the diet. They are in the sauce. And the problem is that in the nutritional recommendations, they can’t determine the amount of fiber. So, when your doctor looks at your plate and doesn’t see vegetables nearby, he’ll say, “OK, you’re not eating enough fiber.” But you need someone who can actually look at your plate and say, “OK, your fiber is different.” And so, understanding how we eat a lot of beans … I’m from Cameroon, and in Cameroon, when I go there, my family, they eat so many greens, and different greens, which I can’t even find here.
As well as: For people who are reading this and want to know more about how they can work with you, how do you work with clients? Do you work with companies and do individual coaching?
Nyemb Diop: Yeah. I give presentations for companies. I also have a group coaching program where I help people build a positive relationship with food and embrace their cultural food. And sometimes I consult other nutritionists who want to be a little more relevant to help their African diaspora clients.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity..