The Future of Food: A Dairy Dietitian Communicates the Science and the Strategies for Better Nutrition on Behalf of America’s Dairy Farmers

Sep 25, 2012

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PROLOGUE:
I met Stephanie when she came to work for the Midwest Dairy Council back in 2006, where I was working as a Nutrition Communications Manager.  I was based in Chicago and she was in the Kansas City area, so we only saw each other in person a few times a year, but she quickly became a dear friend and valued coworker.  We held the same position, just covered different regions.  And we both served as National Dairy Council spokespersons for several years together.

MELISSA:
How did you become interested in a career in nutrition, and how long have you been an RD?
STEPHANIE:
I have an undergraduate degree in broadcast journalism.  Following graduation, I worked in marketing for a communications company and it was during that job that I met an RD for the first time (my bosses’ wife!)  After learning more about her work, I decided the nutrition field would be a good fit for me.  When I was growing up I was interested in diet, exercise and wellness, but never considered focusing on them as a career.  Soon after meeting her, I went back to school to become an RD.

MELISSA:
How interesting to start off in communications and then get into nutrition.  Tell us about your work history prior to the dairy council.
STEPHANIE:
I have worked as an RD for eleven years. Prior to joining the dairy council nearly six years ago, I worked as a clinical dietitian in a small nursing home and hospital, as a WIC dietitian, and as an educator for a weight management company.  While working as a weight management educator, I started doing television interviews.  These opportunities were a great segue to my communications work at the dairy council in my role as Nutrition Spokesperson and Communications Manager.

MELISSA:
Tell me a little bit about your nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
STEPHANIE:
I believe being healthy requires time and commitment (just like anything else in life that you value—family, friendship, career, etc.), and that the rewards of feeling good are well worth the effort.  As the working mom of a seven year-old, I appreciate the challenges busy families face when sorting out nutrition information to put healthy foods on the table. It’s important that I provide accurate information that is easy-to-understand, and that my nutrition advice is practical. As a runner who always is training for the next big race, I also understand the role nutrition plays in fueling an active lifestyle.  Dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt – all proven to play a critical role in overall health and development, not to mention athletic performance- take center stage in my family’s meal plan.

MELISSA:
What types of nutrition communications are you responsible for in your role as Nutrition Spokesperson and Communications Manager at the Midwest Dairy Council?  What do you find most enjoyable and most challenging about the nutrition communications work you do?
STEPHANIE:
As a nutrition spokesperson, I work on behalf of dairy farmers to tell dairy’s nutrition story.  I write content for MidwestDairy.com and our consumer website DairyMakesSense.com.  I also develop nutrition media campaigns, conduct television and radio interviews, engage in social media discussion, and draft news articles for print and online publications. Additionally, I blog for Dairy Makes Sense and The Dairy Report, and coordinate our Nutrition Service Center, providing information to health professionals and consumers on dairy nutrition topics.   I enjoy the variety and fast-pace of my job.  The most challenging part is keeping up!

MELISSA:
Having worked for the dairy council myself, I can relate to the challenge of keeping up!  It is very fast-paced, yet so rewarding.  I really enjoyed learning about all the science behind dairy nutrition and the research, technology and family-owned business aspects to dairy farming.
Tell us about the Future of Food event and Midwest Dairy Council’s involvement.
STEPHANIE:
One of the great challenges of the next generation will be providing nutritious, affordable food to a global population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 — while using fewer resources.  The urgency of this dilemma cannot be overstated and dairy farmers are working to finding solutions through their commitment to the production of fresh, wholesome and nutritious milk with fewer resources, and to fostering healthy people, healthy communities and a healthy planet. On October 4, Midwest Dairy Council will sponsor a Washington Post Live “Future of Food” forum in Chicago to discuss the food security topic with thought leaders .  Discussion will address questions about how to increase access to healthy, affordable food, the impact of the drought, as well as innovations to increase agricultural productivity.  (You are encouraged to attend live or via webcast – click HERE to register for this FREE event).

UPDATE: Click HERE to view the webcast recording of the full discussion!

MELISSA:
I am so glad to see dairy “at the table” and participating in such an important conversation.  I’ll be at the event, representing the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and also as a board member of the Chicago Food and Nutrition Network.  What do you want other RDs to know about this event and how to support this initiative?
STEPHANIE:
We are very pleased to partner with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Chicago Food and Nutrition Network for this event.  As food and nutrition experts, it is important that RDs be a part of the food security conversation.  I encourage RDs to watch the event via webcast at WashingtonPostLive.com, visit DairyGood.org for information and updates, and participate in food security dialogue on Twitter using the hashtag #ThinkFood.

MELISSA:
I will certainly be tweeting!  When it comes to nutrition communications, what comes naturally for you and what do you have to work harder on?
STEPHANIE:
To continue to be successful, I have to work hard to stay current on all communications skills – writing, TV interviewing, social media.  With so many responsibilities, it’s important that I am regularly active in each, so that I don’t get rusty. If I had to pick one area where I am strongest, I would say it is writing—probably because that is the skill I use most often.

MELISSA:
What skills or experiences do RDs need to cultivate if they want to do nutrition communications like you?
STEPHANIE:  
RDs need to build on writing, presentation and public speaking skills. They also should seek out opportunities for social and traditional media (television, radio, print) trainings.  And, it’s important they stay up to date on nutrition trends and research through continuing education opportunities.  I recommend they find a nutrition communicator mentor they can look to for advice and guidance.

MELISSA:
Great advice!  I believe the dairy council provided us with some of the best communications training in the business.  Also, the Nutrition Entrepreneurs DPG is a wonderful resource  learn from other nutrition communicators and to find a good mentor.
What are your top tips for other RDs who want to do more in nutrition communications?
STEPHANIE:
Seek out opportunities to build your communications experience.  For example, serve as a media spokesperson for your state or district dietetic association or write a blog or newsletter for a local organization (in graduate school I wrote a newsletter for a local food bank).  Also, get your name out there by building an online presence via blogging and social media.

MELISSA:
I agree.  Having been a state media rep (and media co-chair) I learned so much and met so many great people.  Those learnings and those connections are still valuable to me today!
Please share one story/experience that either taught you a lot or you think would help other RDs.
STEPHANIE:
It was about a year into my work as a weight management educator when my director started asking me to take her place doing television and radio interviews.  Although I was nervous to take on these responsibilities, I realized they were opportunities to gain experience—I never turned them down.  When I went to interview for my position at the dairy council, I had a nice portfolio of interview clips to present!  It taught me that the best way to grow is to embrace new challenges.

MELISSA:
I have a similar story – and couldn’t agree more.  Sometimes you learn the most by just jumping in and doing it!  Thank you for sharing your experiences and advice with us!

EPILOGUE:
Be sure to check out the Future of Food event and stay tuned for the ensuing dialogue.  I will be sharing more information and links post-event.  You can follow Stephanie on Twitter at @scundithRD – she tweets about food, nutrition, running and of course, dairy!  In addition – check out the Tips & Resources page for some valuable tools that Stephanie shared with us on behalf of the Midwest Dairy Council, including a retail dietitian toolkit and delicious recipes.

Did you enjoy this interview?  Click here to read more!

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