Commit to making anti-racism and anti-bias ideals a part of your daily life. I’m not saying that each person needs to become an activist but each of us has to commit to doing the work in a way that is most meaningful and relevant for themselves.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maya Feller.
Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with patients looking for nutritional management of diet related chronic illnesses with medical nutrition therapy. Maya received her masters of science in clinical nutrition at New York University, where she is adjunct faculty. When working one on one and with groups, Maya believes in meeting the whole person where they are and using a patient-centered, culturally sensitive approach to effect agency and enable each client to meet their unique nutrition-related goals. Maya is dedicated to promoting nutrition education that helps the public to make informed food choices that support health and longevity. Maya shares her approachable, real food based solutions to millions of people through regular speaking engagements, writing in local and national publications, via her social media account on Instagram, @mayafellerRD and as a national nutrition expert on Good Morning America, Strahan Sara & Keke and more. She is the author of The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook: Over 100 Recipes for a Healthy Life.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Igrew up in Cambridge MA. My biological parents are radical academics from Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago. I was raised in a mixed race lesbian household -my mom and mom. My father was involved, like many children of divorce I shared time in two households. In my mothers’ home I have vivid memories of women sitting around the dining room table talking about the third wave of feminism, gender, sexuality and nationalism. The women around the table organized conferences, “I Am Your Sister” And “Simon Nkoli” among others. In my dad’s home Haitian culture and all the goodness that comes with it was abundant and alive. For many years my father, an ethnomusicologist, was the chair of the music department at Wellesley College as he built the Gawou Ginou King Foundation in Haiti. . To say that both homes were brimming with academic activism was an understatement.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Growing up I must have read, “Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo” by Ntozake Shange along with “ For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf” numerous times. Both titles spoke to me deeply because I saw glimmers of myself in Shange’s writing.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
That’s a great question. I don’t know that I have a favorite life lesson quote, but I do believe in listening and giving voice to the most marginalized.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
That’s a big question. Leadership is the ability to listen, learn, balance, incorporate, inspire and make positive decisions that benefit the majority.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crisis. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
This is a traumatic time for everyone in the US. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the globe and exposed the most unsavory inequities in this country. The most vulnerable in this country bore and continue to bear the brunt of the virus. From the unnecessary loss of life to starvation. After months of being on PAUSE the nation watched in horror as extreme violence was done to Black bodies. The irony of this is that this violence against Black bodies has always existed, but now the world was watching and sharing. As an Afro-Carribean American, I deeply felt the collective pain associated with the pandemic and subsequent violence against Black bodies.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
All of my day to day work is centered around nutrition. Seeing patients, teaching or writing about nutrition. I have thought about and talked about the intersection between culture, class, race and health for as long as I have been a dietitian. To witness the ravaging of Black, Brown and Indigenous communities of color as a result of COVID -19 adds so much salt to the wounds that our communities endure on a daily basis. As the data poured in revealing an increased risk of death associated with underlying conditions it quickly became clear that BIPOC would again experience disproportionate disease burden and subsequent death. Again, the data is not new — this time the nation was watching because we were all scared. We all wanted and needed information to better understand our own risks as well as the risks of those we love.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
My patient care is centered around non-communicable disease. Reducing disease burden as well as management of any diagnosis that may be present. Naturally, many of my patients fall into the higher risk category secondary to their underlying conditions. In the past months we have focused on improving each individual’s clinical outcomes. Simply put — working to bring blood pressure back within expected limits as well as blood sugars within expected limits. I work from a patient centered approach that aims to meet the whole person where they are. These days it looks different for each person and my job is to roll with it!
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Commit to making anti-racism and anti-bias ideals a part of your daily life. I’m not saying that each person needs to become an activist but each of us has to commit to doing the work in a way that is most meaningful and relevant for themselves.
- Vote people into office who will prioritize equity, anti-racist, and anti-bias policies. Leaders who prioritize people and human life. Leaders who care about environmental justice and believe in science. National elections are important but our local and state elections are critical as well. Our local and state officials have the ability to take a community’s wants and needs up the proverbial chain.
- Support. Turn the lense inward — for Non-BIPOC, become an ally. Do the work of examining how you have benefited from systemic racism and biased policies and commit to being an ally. I.e How do you hold other White people accountable for their racist and biased behavior? Are you having the difficult conversations with family members, co-workers and people in your community
- Give. Giving takes on multiple forms that may include financial, service and in kind. We are in a moment where so many people are in need. Taking the time to think about where your skills are most useful will allow you to determine meaningful giving.
- Know the history, the real history. Our nation did not end up here overnight. In fact these moments have been decades and centuries in the making. Learning and understanding the history of this country may help us understand how not to replete these gross injustices.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
Yes, easier said than done. Facing history, unpacking personal backpacks, and committing to anti-racist and anti-bias work all require intentionality and diligence. To see community level change in BIPOC communities, funds need to be reallocated with the goal of equity.
Support local community centers, small businesses, non protitfts and organizations that have a clear anti-racist and antibias mission. These organizations have pre existing infrastructure that can disseminate funds and reach communities in need.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Yes HOPE is a four letter word. However, I do think we are headed in the right direction. To see change where BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folx are truly valued, respected, given equal opportunity and not discriminated against will require reeducation, restructuring and redistribution of funds and services. Can this be done, yes. Will it be excruciating, yes. IS it needed, yes.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
As a dietitian you are probably expecting me to say, “eat more plants.” Although true, I would say, don’t give up. Don’t allow anyone to silence you, you are valid, you deserve to have the same opportunities, you are excellent and no one can take that from you.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would like to have a private meal with Michele Obama because so many young women look to her for guidance. She has done incredible work in the Obama foundation. I would relish the opportunity to simply sit with her and talk and learn how I can support the work of the foundation.
How can our readers follow you online?
Via my website: www.mayafellernutrition.com
FB: Maya Feller Nutrition
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!