Importance of a Diverse Perspective: Behind the scenes of an FNS Dietitian’s Job 

Team working together in the office

By: Stephany Singh

Ever wondered what and how you can advocate for inclusion? This thought has crossed my change-agent mind throughout my life. What would you know, the opportunity truly presented itself in the most unlikely of places. 

I have been provided the opportunity to work with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in their Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) agency. I am currently finishing off my fifth week and have participated in several groundbreaking meetings and sessions. This experience showed me a different way to make the changes I wish to see in this world.

You may be wondering what FNS does? Well, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) website explains it best: the FNS, “increases food security and reduces hunger in partnership with cooperating organizations by providing children and low-income people access to food, a healthy diet, and nutrition education in a manner that supports American agriculture and inspires public confidence.” The USDA has a mission to end hunger and obesity through the administration of fifteen federal nutrition assistance programs including Women Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Child Nutrition programs such as the National School Lunch Program. As you may have noticed from what I mentioned, FNS plays an integral role in the accessibility of food to a very diverse population with a mission to increase food security and reduce hunger through nutrition education. Numerous programs are administered by FNS such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), FNS Disaster Assistance, and Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), just to name a few.  

Most of the work I was a part of and got to listen to was focused on the Food Distribution Programs that distribute USDA Foods (FDPIR, CSFP, TEFAP, and USDA Foods for Child Nutrition Programs). 

In the essence of time, I will focus on the complex FDPIR program. FNS works hard to ensure from a distribution standpoint that the USDA foods available list for FDPIR reflects what the participants want and can use. Moreover, I was able to join the FDPIR food package review workgroup meeting. The agenda included a vote for new foods to consider based on previous feedback and discussions with the tribes, which led to food being added like those  found on the 2022 FDPIR Foods Available List. You would think that after the work-group votes, the new foods agreed upon would be implemented, right? Well, not quite! The workgroup must first meet with participants to discuss and vote on the potential foods. It is different from that of the meeting agenda votes, these come from the individual FDPIR participants rather than the workgroup. Think community rather than organizational or governmental. For instance, the workgroup met recently and the consensus from that meeting was to add the five foods previously identified and discussed with the tribes. However, the list then needed to move to another agency of USDA, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), of which FNS is in constant communication. AMS conducts market research to identify USDA approved vendors that have the capacity to supply the product based on the volumes needed. All USDA Foods are 100% domestic, so they are grown, processed, and produced in the United States and its territories. Market research ensures that approved vendors can meet the USDA specifications according to what is stated in the  Product Specifications & Requirements and demand before it could  be added to the foods available list. 

In addition, I have gained knowledge by completing the last four weeks learning how government entities work and collaborate with contractors, stakeholders, and organizations, and, more importantly, the role of dietitians. I have analyzed information on how to make FDPIR stronger through the introduction of new food options that are culturally inclusive of the tribes and diverse, I have completed three featured foods for the  FDPIR quarterly e-letter. The featured foods that I was tasked with completing were catfish filets, pollock filets, and canned salmon. The goal of each of these featured food articles was to serve as an introduction to the food item, their nutrient-density, where they are sourced and to provide readers with recipes on how to incorporate these items to their diets. In order to complete this task, I had to read the specifications for each item. The specifications are a five to ten page document that elaborate on how the item is sourced, packaged, labeled and stored, to meet the USDA standards based on AMS research and recommendations.

I am currently in the process of completing two additional tasks which require in-depth research on:

  1. The compilation of recipes and/or cookbooks that are tribe specific for FDPIR staff to use as a resource to incorporate potential nutrition education.
  2. The creation of recipe ideas based on what CSFP offers. 

The goal of the tribe specific recipes is to ensure tribes have the necessary resources to provide their participants through FDPIR, and the goal of the CSFP recipe ideas initiative is to ensure the participants are provided with realistic ways to utilize the foods provided.

With just one week remaining at this rotation, I am eager to learn even more. This experience has shown me a way I can be a change agent in this field, like my preceptor. I have a new diverse perspective on ways dietitians can not only help people eat to sustain good healthy lifestyles, but also make a positive social impact.

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