It’s National Nutrition Month 2017!

Dear Readers,

Here at the Friedman School, we think about nutrition every day. But in March, we celebrate! This year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics wants us to “put our best forks forward,” and our writers at the Friedman Sprout are doing just that.

In this issue, Katelyn Castro kicks off the month with 8 small, but worthwhile and totally doable tips for eating healthier in 2017. Meanwhile, Hannah Meier takes a look at a popular anti-diet trend and asks whether it’s really all it’s cracked up to be. For the hungry among us, Julia Sementelli introduces us to that chicken and rice dish she loves so much. Our mouths are watering already.

On the research front, we talk food allergies. Should peanut butter still strike fear in our hearts? In an effort to eat her PBJ freely again, Erin Child advises us in on the new guidelines for reducing the risk of peanut allergies. On policy, Daniele Todorov takes a look at the American opioid epidemic – and what it has to do with WIC.

And now that, two months into a new presidential administration, we’ve finally accepted (or conceded?) this brave new political world of ours, Friedman students are trying to navigate what comes next. Kathleen Nay shares her experience as a participant of Let’s Talk, a project piloted by fellow Friedman students to facilitate more open and empathetic political dialogue. Maddy Bennett, on the other hand, is all about action: this month she’s taking the opportunity to tell us about the grassroots Coalition of Immokalee Workers and why it’s more important than ever to organize on behalf of agricultural workers.

From us to you, happy reading! Cheers,

Kathleen and Micaela

 

In this issue…

8 Small But Worthwhile Changes You Can Make to Eat Healthier

by Katelyn Castro

Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month® with new (and a little cheesy) nutrition theme each year. This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” While this can be interpreted in many ways, here is my spin the theme, including a step-by-step guide on how healthy eating can fit into your lifestyle.

5 Reasons the Whole30 is Not the Anti-Diet it Claims to Be

by Hannah Meier, RD, LDN

How does the Whole30 Diet hold up from a dietitian’s perspective? Hannah Meier breaks it down.

That Chicken and Rice Dish

by Julia Sementelli

It’s March and the official month of the start of Spring! But here in Boston the temperatures have been playing games with our hearts, which makes trying to decide what to make for dinner a bit tricky. This recipe for Yotam Ottolenghi’s “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice” is the perfect meal to help you transition from winter to spring. Warm and comforting from the spices and hearty chicken and rice, but refreshing and light from an abundance of fresh herbs and a tangy yogurt sauce. This dish has become a staple in my cooking repertoire and I’ll share with you my tips for making the best possible version of this delicious dish.

Putting a Pause on Peanut Butter Panic: New Guidelines Seek to Reduce Peanut Allergy Risk

by Erin Child

Do you like peanut butter? So do I. I’m kind of obsessed. Perhaps you add it to your smoothie bowl, drizzle it artfully on your Instagram worthy oatmeal, or, if you’re in grad school, it’s part of your PB&J. After all, that is the cheapest, easiest thing to make. But what if you had to take the PB out of the PB&J, and eliminate it from your diet and your life? This is a growing reality for many in the United States, with outdated, misinformed guidelines being blamed for the recent spike in peanut allergies. Read on to explore the revolutionary research that has spurred the creation of new guidelines, and why Americans need to change how we handle peanut exposure in childhood.

WIC at the Crossroads of the Opioid Epidemic

by Danièle Todorov

The complexity and pervasiveness of the opioid epidemic has forced government agencies to be innovative with their resources. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in a prime position to care for pregnant women affected by the epidemic and has stepped up to the plate.

Exiting the Echo Chamber

by Kathleen Nay

Many of us were unexpectedly blindsided by the results of the 2016 Presidential Election, but maybe we shouldn’t have been. Four Friedman students saw a need for greater diversity in our political discourse, and decided to do something about it. They piloted Let’s Talk, a four-week program designed to help fellow students engage in more respectful, tolerant, and empathetic dialogue with people of diverse political perspectives.

Agricultural Workers Should Organize

by Maddy Bennett

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a farm workers’ rights group founded by laborers on Florida’s tomato farms. The organization now operates in many states to secure fair wages and to oppose involuntary servitude in the U.S. agriculture industry. CIW succeeded in bringing large food retailers to meet the terms of the group’s Fair Food Program. The work of CIW proves that when labor organizes to reclaim its rights, society benefits. Learn more by attending Friedman Seminar on April 19. 

8 Small But Worthwhile Changes You Can Make to Eat Healthier

by Katelyn Castro

Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month® with new (and a little cheesy) nutrition theme each year. This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” While this can be interpreted in many ways, here is my spin the theme, including a step-by-step guide on how healthy eating can fit into your lifestyle.

National Nutrition Month 2017: Put Your Best Fork Forward! For more information about National Nutrition Month and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, visit www.eatright.org.

National Nutrition Month 2017: Put Your Best Fork Forward! For more information about National Nutrition Month and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, visit http://www.eatright.org.

When January rolls around, reflecting on the past year leaves many people vowing to lose weight or eat healthier. Yet, about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February, according to U.S. News. Why? More often then not, we set our weight loss goals too high or make our diets too extreme, asking our bodies to work in overdrive and making failure is inevitable. Our high expectations can leave us feeling defeated and too frustrated with ourselves to even consider a different approach.

Creating SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely— goals on the other hand, can set us up for success. By working on a behavior, like eating more mindfully, rather than focusing on an outcome, like weight loss, lofty goals can become more reasonable. Now, three months into the New Year, is the perfect time to re-evaluate resolutions and take a more practical approach to health and wellness with SMART goals.

“Put Your Best Fork Forward,” the theme of this year’s National Nutrition Month® aligns perfectly with this sustainable approach to healthy eating. National Nutrition Month® 2017, recognized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is all about making small changes in our food choices—one forkful at a time—to develop lifelong, healthy eating habits.

Below is a list of eight small changes that you can make to shift towards healthier eating. Since our priorities, like our food choices, are personal and unique to each of us, I included eight suggestions so you can focus on a goal that fits into your lifestyle Make the goal specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely with the help of this resource, and give it a try!

1. Cook more meals from home.

When you take the time to cook your own meals, whether it’s English muffin pizzas or an elegant chicken marsala dinner, you can choose the ingredients and manage the portions. Even if you choose to add some oil, butter, or salt while cooking, most homemade meals are still lower in unhealthy fats, sodium, and calories than the restaurant or fast food version, according to research. Homemade meals also save money and time. In the time it takes to have a pizza delivered or a meal served at a restaurant, your dinner can be prepared and ready to eat—especially if you choose simple, tasty recipes like these.

SMART Goal Idea: If you eat out frequently on weekends, skip your Saturday restaurant plans and spend time with your family or friends cooking a meal from home instead.

2. Switch one of your daily grains to a whole grain.

Many of us have at least one go-to starch, whether it’s pasta, rice, or bread. Choosing the whole grain version of one of your mainstay starches is an easy way to add fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and reduce added sugars. For example, swap white bread or honey wheat bread for whole grain bread, switch white or veggie pasta to whole wheat pasta, or replace Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal with Kashi Heart to Heart Warm Cinnamon cereal.

To find whole grains at the grocery store, ignore the front of the package labeling or the whole grain stamp of approval—these health claims can be deceiving! Instead, go straight to the ingredient list: the first ingredient listed should include the word “whole” followed by the name of the grain in the product. For example, if “whole wheat flour”, “whole oat flour”, or “whole rye flour” are listed as the first ingredients, then you’ve found yourself a whole grain!

SMART Goal Idea: If you add rice to your meals on a regular basis, swap out the white rice for a brown rice, or try one of these lesser-known whole grains.

3. Change the way you use fat in cooking.

Adding butter to a skillet for pancakes or pouring oil into a pan for a stir-fry can seem like second nature after a while. However, it’s easy to overdo it with these calorie-dense foods—one tablespoon of oil has about 120 calories! Using oils, like canola and olive oil, instead of butter when cooking can be a simple way to replace saturated fats with more heart-healthy unsaturated fats in meals. Also, investing in an oil mister or an oil spray like PAM can make a little oil go a long way, sparing you some calories.

SMART Goal Idea: If you like to sauté or roast foods like meats, veggies, or potatoes on a daily basis, skip the butter and layers of oil and use an oil mister. Spray the bottom of the pan before cooking, then add food and lightly spray the oil again over the top of food.

4. Aim for two to three servings of vegetables each day.

Eighty-seven percent of Americans do not meet the recommended servings of vegetables (2 1/2 cups daily), according to a national report from the Center of Disease Control. If you fall into this group, then you’re probably missing out on some essential nutrients. Vegetables are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are all important for skin, eye, heart and immune health. For some veggie inspiration, check out these flavorful vegetable-filled recipes.

If you already eat enough veggies, focus on increasing the variety of your vegetables since different colored vegetables have different vitamins and antioxidants. Aim for a combination of green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, red/orange vegetables like carrots and tomatoes, and starchy vegetables like peas and potatoes.

SMART Goal Idea: If you are a pasta lover, steam or roast some veggies while your pasta is cooking. Fill half your plate with pasta and fill the other half with a colorful array of cooked vegetables and some protein like beans, chicken, or shrimp. Broccoli and squash, tomatoes and spinach, mushrooms and cauliflower are a few tasty veggie combinations.

5. Sweeten your breakfast and snacks naturally.

Flavored yogurt, sweetened cereal, and packaged oatmeal are some of the sneakiest sources of added sugars. Even a serving of Raisin Bran cereal has 18 grams of sugar—equivalent to 4 to 5 teaspoons of white sugar! Unless you’re eating Raisin Bran for dessert, save those added sugars for times when you’re really craving sweets. Stick to the unsweetened yogurt, cereal, and oatmeal, and flavor them yourself with fruit, nuts, or seeds. Even drizzling some honey or a sprinkle of brown sugar on unsweetened oats, cereal or yogurt, will still give you less added sugar than most sweetened versions.

SMART Goal Idea: If you rely on sweetened oatmeal packets for breakfasts, replace them with plain quick oats or rolled oats. If you like your oatmeal fruity, try this recipe. For a more savory and creamy oatmeal, give this recipe a try.

6. Make water your beverage of choice.

If you’re a regular soda drinker, switching to water could be the simplest change that you can make to improve your health. Replacing soda and other sugary drinks with water doesn’t just save you calories, but it eliminates empty calories so you can make room for other calories from more nutritious food.

If you’ve already cut out soda from your diet, focus on drinking enough water. Since many metabolic pathways rely on water, dehydration can make our metabolism work less efficiently. Memory, concentration, mood, energy level, and muscle movement are also negatively impacted by dehydration, even mildly dehydration. Though eight cups of water daily is generally recommended, the best way to find out how much water your body needs is to check your urine. Yes, I’m talking about your pee—you want it to be a light, almost clear color. If it’s dark yellow, then you may not be drinking enough water throughout the day. To up your H2O intake, set a reminder on your phone to drink more water with one of these apps or try one of these drinks to give your water some more flavor.

SMART Goal Idea: Once you determine out how many cups of water your body needs, split the volume in three and aim to drink that amount every three to four hours throughout the day. For example, if you need nine cups of water, try to drink 3 cups before noon, 3 more cups in the afternoon, and 3 more cups before you go to sleep.

7. Go meatless once a week.

Since the World Health Organization identified processed meats as “carcinogenic” and red meat as “probably carcinogenic,” concern continues to grow over the potential risks of eating too much of these meats, especially processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and deli meats. While avoiding all processed meats and red meats may be unrealistic, try committing one day of the week to not eating meat. Making this small change has several health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease and lower risk of some cancers, according to research from the Meatless Monday campaign. Going meatless once a week may seem a little less daunting, when you consider everything you can add to your plate like whole grains, beans, lentils, and vegetables. For some delicious meatless meals, check out these recipes.

SMART Goal Idea: Instead of ordering a burrito with steak, cheese, and rice, fill your burrito with black beans, rice, corn salsa, and guacamole­—you’ll still get plenty of protein, with the addition of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

8. Check in with your hunger, fullness, and cravings.

Not ready to change anything about your eating habits? That’s okay too! Start by getting more curious about how, when, and why you eat. Before meals, ask yourself how hungry you are. After eating, consider how full you are: satisfied or uncomfortably full? When you have an intense food craving, ask yourself what may be triggering the craving. Are you overly hungry, stressed, or distracted? Is it emotional hunger or physical hunger? Keeping track of how certain foods make you feel and identifying what may be influencing your food choices can give you perspective for when you’re ready to make changes.

SMART Goal Idea: Pick one meal each day and spend 10 to 15 minutes tracking your hunger, fullness, and cravings before, during, and after the meal. Keep a journal, write a note in your phone, or get an App to track your intake and make you more mindful.

Katelyn Castro is a second-year student in the DI/MS Nutrition program at the Friedman School. She’s a foodie, runner, and part-time yogi on a mission to make healthy eating easy, sustainable, and enjoyable. You can find her thoughts on all things relating to food and nutrition at nutritionservedsimply.com.

 

5 Reasons the Whole30 is Not the Anti-Diet It Claims to Be

by Hannah Meier, RD, LDN

How does the Whole30 Diet hold up from a dietitian’s perspective? Hannah Meier breaks it down.

I’m calling it: 2017 is the year of the non-diet.

As a dietitian who ardently discourages short-term dieting, I was thrilled to read many articles posted around the new year with titles like “Things to Add, Not Take Away in 2017,” and “Why I’m Resolving Not to Change This Year.” Taking a step more powerful than simply abstaining from resolution season, influencers like these authors resolved to embrace the positive, stay present, and not encourage the cycle of self-loathing that the “losing weight” resolutions tend to result in year after year.

Right alongside these posts, though, was an overwhelming amount of press exonerating the Whole30—a 30-day food and beverage “clean eating” diet.

The founders of the Whole30, however, adamantly claim it is not a diet. Even though participants are advised to “cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days” (including legumes, dairy, all grains, sugar, MSG, and additives like carrageenan), followers are encouraged to avoid the scale and focus on learning how food makes them feel rather than how much weight they gain or lose.

But our culture is still hungry for weight loss. The possibility of losing weight ahead of her sister’s wedding was “the deciding factor” for my friend Lucy (name changed for privacy), who read the entire Whole30 book cover to cover, and fought her “sugar dragon” for 30 days in adherence to the Whole30 protocol (only to eat M&M’s on day 31, she admits).

“Whole30 focuses on foods in their whole forms which is positive for people who are learning how to incorporate more unprocessed foods in their diet,” Allison Knott, registered dietitian and Friedman alum (N12) explains. “However, the elimination of certain groups of foods like beans/legumes and grains may have negative health implications if continued over the long-term.”

Diets like these trick consumers into thinking they are forming a healthier relationship with food. Though weight loss is de-emphasized, a trio of restriction, fear, and control are in the driver’s seat and could potentially steer dieters toward a downward, disordered-eating spiral.

I still think 2017 is the year of the non-diet, but before we get there we need to unmask the Whole30 and call it what it is: an unsustainable, unhealthy, fad diet.

1: It is focused on “can” and “cannot”

The Whole30 targets perfectly nutritious foods for most people (grains, beans and legumes, and dairy) as foods to avoid entirely, relegating them to the same level of value as boxed mac and cheese, frozen pizza, and Kool-Aid. And most bodies are perfectly capable of handling these foods. They provide a convenient, affordable, and satisfying means of getting calcium, vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, and nutrient-dense protein. The Whole30 eliminates almost all the plant-based protein options for vegans and vegetarians. While the point of eliminating these foods, creators Hartwig and Hartwig explain, is to reduce inflammation and improve gut health, nowhere in the book or website do they provide scientific studies that show removing grains, beans and dairy does this for most people. But we’ll get to that later.

The Whole30 also instructs that participants not eat any added sugar or sweeteners (real or artificial), MSG (monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer that has been weakly linked to brain and nervous system disruption), or carrageenan (a thickener derived from seaweed and is plentiful in the world of nut milks and frozen desserts; conflicting evidence has both suggested and refuted the possibility that it is associated with cancer and inflammatory diseases), sulfites (like those in wine), or alcohol. Not even a lick, as they are very clear to explain, or you must start the entire 30-day journey from the beginning once more.

“I couldn’t go longer than 30 days without a hit of chocolate,” Lucy told me, explaining why she was dedicated to following the program exactly.

Why take issue with focusing on “good” and “bad,” “can” and “cannot” foods? As soon as a moral value is assigned, the potential for establishing a normal relationship to food and eating is disrupted. “The diet encourages following the restrictive pattern for a solid 30 days. That means if there is a single slip-up, as in you eat peanut butter (for example), then you must start over. I consider this to be a punishment which does not lend itself to developing a healthy relationship with food and may backfire, especially for individuals struggling with underlying disordered eating patterns,” Knott argues.

How will a person feel on day 31, adding brown rice alongside their salmon and spinach salad after having restricted it for a month? Likely not neutral. Restrictive dietary patterns tend to lead to overconsumption down the road, and it is not uncommon for people to fall back in to old habits, like my friend Lucy. “People often do several Whole30 repetitions to reinforce healthier eating habits,” she explained.

Knott relates the diet to other time-bound, trendy cleanses. “There’s little science to support the need for a “cleansing diet,” she says. “Unless there is a food intolerance, allergy, or other medical reason for eliminating food groups then it’s best to learn how to incorporate a balance of foods in the diet in a sustainable, individualized way.”

While no one is arguing that consuming less sugar, MSG and alcohol are unsound health goals, making the message one of hard-and-fast, black-and-white, “absolutely don’t go near or even think about touching that” is an unsustainable, unhealthy, and inflexible way to relate to food for a lifetime.

2: It requires a lot of brainpower

After eight years of existence, the Whole30 now comes with a pretty widespread social-media support system. There is plenty of research to back up social support in any major lifestyle change as a major key to success. Thanks to this, more people than ever before (like my friend Lucy, who participated alongside her engaged sister) can make it through the 30 days without “failing.”

But the Whole30 turns the concept of moderation and balance on its head. Perfection is necessary and preparation is key. Having an endless supply of chopped vegetables, stocks for soups, meat, and eggs by the pound and meals planned and prepared for the week, if not longer, is pretty much required if you don’t want to make a mistake and start over. The Whole30 discourages between-meal snacking, (why?) and cutting out sugar, grains, and dairy eliminates many grab-and-go emergency options that come in handy on busy days. So, dieters better be ready when hunger hits.

Should the average Joe looking to improve his nutrition need to scour the internet for “compliant” recipes and plan every meal of every day in advance? While the Whole30 may help those unfamiliar with cooking wholesome, unprocessed meals at home jumpstart a healthy habit, learning about cooking, especially for beginners, should be flexible. It doesn’t have to come with a rule book. In fact, I think that’s inviting entirely too much brain power that could be used in so many other unique and fulfilling ways to be spent thinking, worrying, and obsessing about food. Food is important, but it is only one facet of wellness. The Whole30 seems to brush aside the intractable and significant influence of stress in favor of a “perfect” diet, which may or may not be nutritionally adequate, anyway.

The language used by Whole30 creators to rationalize the rigidity of the diet could make anyone feel like a chastised puppy in the corner. “It’s not hard,” they say, and then proceed to compare its difficulty to losing a child or a parent. Okay, sure, compared to a major life stressor, altering one’s diet is a walk in the park. But changing habits is hard work that requires mental energy every single day. Eating, and choosing what to eat, is a constant battle for many people and it doesn’t have to be. Life is hard enough without diet rules. The last thing anyone needs is to transform a natural and fulfilling component of it (read: food) into a mental war zone with contrived rules and harsh consequences.

3: It is elitist

When was the last time you overheard a stranger complain about healthy eating being expensive? Most likely, the protester was envisioning a diet akin to the Whole30. Grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, clarified butter, organic produce…no dry staples like beans, rice or peanut butter. Healthy eating does not exist on a pedestal. It does not have to be expensive, but it certainly can be depending on where you choose to (or can) shop. Let’s set a few things straight: You don’t need grass-fed gelatin powder in your smoothies to be healthy. You don’t need organic coconut oil to be healthy. You don’t need exotic fruits and free-range eggs to be healthy. Maybe these foods mean more than just nutrition, signifying important changes to be made within our food system. But it terms of nutrition, sometimes the best a person can do for himself and his family is buy conventional produce, whole grains in bulk, and Perdue chicken breast on sale because otherwise they would be running to the drive thru or microwaving a packet of ramen noodles for dinner. A diet like the Whole30, which emphasizes foods of the “highest quality,” does nothing more than shame and isolate those who can’t sustain the standard it imposes, further cementing their belief that healthy eating is unattainable.

4: It is socially isolating

Imagine with me: I am participating in the Whole30 and doing great for the first week eating fully compliant meals. Then comes the weekend, and “oh no” it’s a football weekend and all I want to do is relax with my friends like I love to do. For me, that typically involves a beer or two, shared appetizers (even some carrots and celery!) and lots of laughs. The Whole30 creators would likely laugh in my face and tell me to suck it up for my own good and just munch on the veggies and maybe some meatballs. (“But are those grass-fed and did you use jarred sauce to make them? I bet there’s a gram of sugar hiding in there somewhere.”)

But it is just a month—certainly anyone can abstain from these type of events for a mere 30 days (remember, “it’s not hard”)—but then what? Do you just return to your normal patterns? Or do you, more likely, go back to them feeling so cheated from a month of restraint that you drink and eat so much more than you might have if you’d maintained a sense of moderation?

Of course, there are people comfortable with declining the food-centric aspect of social life, for whom turning down a glass of wine with cheese in favor of seltzer and crudités is no big deal. And perhaps our social events have become a bit too food centric, anyway. Either way, using food rules to isolate one’s self from friends and family sounds an awful lot like the pathway to an eating disorder, and the sense of deprivation most people likely feel in these situations can snowball into chronic stress that overshadows any short-term, nutrition-related “win.”

Although, maybe we should get all our friends to drink seltzer water and eat crudités at football games.

5: It is not scientifically sound

Most of The Whole30’s success has come from word of mouth, stories, and endorsements from those who successfully made it through the program and felt “better” afterwards. The website, dismayingly, does not house a single citation or study referenced in creation of the diet.

It’s important to note that the Whole30 did not exist 20 years ago. The Whole30 is not a pattern of eating that is replicated in any society on earth, and it doesn’t seem to be based off any research suggesting that it is indeed a superior choice. At the end of the day, this is a business, created by Sports Nutritionists (a credential anyone can get by taking an online test, regardless of one’s background in nutrition—which neither of them has) part of the multi-billion-dollar diet industry. Pinpointing three major food groups as causing inflammation and hormonal imbalance is quite an extreme statement to make without any research to back it up.

What does the science actually show? Knott, who counsels clients in her Tennessee-based private practice reminds us that, “consuming a plant-based diet, including grains and beans/legumes, is known to contribute to a lower risk for chronic disease like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Grains and beans/legumes are a source of fiber, protein, and B vitamins such as folate. They’re also a source of phytochemicals which may play a role in cancer prevention.”

The Whole30 proposes eliminating grains because they contain phytates, plant chemicals that reduce the absorbability of nutrients like magnesium and zinc in our bodies. While it’s true that both grains and legumes contain phytates, so do certain nuts and some vegetables allowed on the diet, like almonds. It is possible to reduce the amount of phytates in an eaten food by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting grains and legumes, but research from within the last 20 years suggests that phytates may actually play a key role as antioxidants. In a diverse and balanced diet, phytates in foods like grains and legumes do not present a major micronutrient threat. Further, new findings from Tufts scientists provide more evidence that whole grains in particular improve immune and inflammatory markers related to the microbiome.

Legumes in the Whole30 are eliminated because some of their carbohydrates aren’t as well-digested and absorbed in the small intestine. Some people are highly sensitive to these types of carbohydrates, and may experience severe digestive irritation like excessive gas, bloating, constipation, etc. Strategies such as the FODMAP approach are used with these folks under professional supervision to ensure they continue to get high-quality, well-tolerated fiber in their diets, and only eliminate those foods which cause distress. For others, elimination of these types of carbohydrates is unsound. Undigested fibers like those in legumes are also known as prebiotics, and help to feed the healthy bacteria in our gut. Eliminating this beneficial food group to improve gut health goes directly against the growing base of scientific evidence surrounding the microbiota.

Dairy, for those without an allergy or intolerance, has been shown to provide many benefits when incorporated into a balanced and varied diet, including weight stabilization and blood sugar control. The diet also fails to recognize the important health benefits associated with fermented dairy products like yogurt.

In terms of the diet’s long-term sustainability, Knott adds, “There’s plenty of research to support that restrictive diets fail. Many who adopt this way of eating will likely lose weight only to see it return after the diet ends.”

Let’s not forget its few redeeming qualities

For everything wrong with the Whole30, there are a few aspects of the diet that should stick. The concept of getting more in touch with food beyond a label, reducing added sugars, and alcohol is a good one and something that everyone should be encouraged to do. Focusing on cooking more from scratch, relying less on processed foods, and learning about how food influences your mood and energy levels are habits everyone should work to incorporate into a healthy life.

Knott agrees, adding, “I do like that the diet emphasizes the importance of not weighing yourself. We know that weight is a minor piece to the puzzle and other metrics are more appropriate for measuring health such as fitness, lean muscle mass, and biometric screenings.”

Improving the nutritional quality of your diet should not eliminate whole food groups like dairy, grains, and legumes. It should not have a time stamp on its end date, and rather, should be a lifelong journey focusing on flexibility, moderation, and balance. Lower your intake of processed foods, sugars, and alcohol and increase the variety of whole foods. Et voilà! A healthy diet that won’t yell at you for screwing up.

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Thanks to Allison Knott MS, RDN, LDN for contributing expertise. Knott is a private practice dietitian and owner of ANEWtrition, LLC based in Tennessee. She graduated from the Nutrition Communications program at Friedman in 2012.

 

Hannah Meier is a second-year, part-time Nutrition Interventions, Communication & Behavior Change student and registered dietitian interested in learning more about non-diet approaches to wellness. She aspires to make proper nutrition a simple, accessible and fulfilling part of life for people in all walks of life. You can find her on Instagram documenting food, fitness and fun @abalancepaceRD, as well as on her (budding) blog of the same title: http://www.abalancedpace.wordpress.com

That Chicken and Rice Dish

by Julia Sementelli

It’s March and the official month of the start of Spring! But here in Boston the temperatures have been playing games with our hearts, which makes trying to decide what to make for dinner a bit tricky. This recipe for Yotam Ottolenghi’s “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice” is the perfect meal to help you transition from winter to spring. Warm and comforting from the spices and hearty chicken and rice, but refreshing and light from an abundance of fresh herbs and a tangy yogurt sauce. This dish has become a staple in my cooking repertoire and I’ll share with you my tips for making the best possible version of this delicious dish.

Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice. Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo by Julia Sementelli.

Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice. Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo by Julia Sementelli.

I was sitting in the grass in my backyard on a warm fall day, with the sun shining on my shoulders, perusing the Boston Globe when I stumbled upon a beautiful picture of a skillet brimming with verdant green herbs. There were so many herbs that you could just barely see the beautifully browned chicken thighs on a bed of spiced rice underneath. The accompanying article was about Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook, which had garnered a cult-like following. Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born, British chef and restaurant owner. He is well known for his cookbook, Plenty, in which he transforms vegetables into the most beautiful recipes. His recipe for “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice,” and the photograph I was drooling over, was described as particularly outstanding. I knew I had to make it. I ran to the bookstore to get my hands on Jerusalem: A Cookbook.

Despite the recipe’s apparent simplicity, the result is an intensely fragrant and complex combination of sweet, from the currants and caramelized onions, and savory, from the crisp chicken thighs and tart yogurt sauce. It is a one-pot wonder to make on a cool, fall evening. It will solve your weeknight cooking woes because it makes a generous portion, easily satisfying a family of four with one or two rounds of leftovers. It could also feed one person for a whole week of dinners. It is a favorite among my family as well. I have received countless requests to make “that chicken and rice dish” for dinner.

The vessel in which you make this dish is paramount. If the skillet is too small, the chicken will simply steam rather than brown, the onions will not caramelize, and the rice will be unevenly cooked. Therefore, it is important to have a large skillet (at least 12 inches wide) with a tight-fitting lid. Once you have chosen your pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Next, add 2 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions. Allow the onions to cook for 20 minutes, only stirring occasionally to allow the onions to caramelize. You will know when to reduce the heat when the onions are a dark brown. Every time I make this dish I always question if I cooked the onions too long. We are used to golden onions as the sign that you can move on to the next step of cooking. But in this case, you want a deep brown color. In my opinion, the caramelized onions transform this dish so give them the attention (or lack thereof) that they deserve. If you move them around too much, they will not achieve that deep golden brown. Once the onions are concentrated and nearly syrupy, which is essential for the flavor and sweetness of the dish, transfer them to a dish and set aside.

Next, in a large bowl, combine 2 ¼ pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with 1 ½ teaspoons each of kosher salt and black pepper, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 10 cardamom pods, and 2 long cinnamon sticks broken in half. Mix everything with your hands and wash your hands. Next, over medium heat, add the chicken and spice mixture to the skillet, searing the thighs for five minutes on each side. Try your best not to move the chicken as this will interfere with browning. Using tongs, remove the chicken and spices from the pan. While the pan is still hot, add 1 plus 2/3 cups uncooked basmati rice, 2 ½ tablespoons of dried currants, and 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and black pepper to the pan. Return the chicken and spices to the pan as well, nestling the thighs in the dry rice. Now, add 3 ¼ cups boiling water, cover, and immediately set the heat to low. It is imperative to add enough water to ensure that your rice is perfectly cooked since nobody likes crunchy rice. There is a discrepancy between the prescribed amount of water between the cookbook and the Boston Globe article. The book calls for 2 ¼ cups of water while the article states that one more cup of water is necessary, recommending 3 ¼ cups total. The latter is the winner, based on personal experience. The couple times that I forgot to add that extra cup of water, the rice did not cook enough. Having crunchy rice bits mixed in with the soft ones is a nightmare. Trust me, two and a half cups is not enough water. It results in some uncooked rice in the pan and warrants adding more water as you go, so do yourself a favor and just start with the three and a half cups of boiling water.

Cook the chicken and rice covered for 30 minutes over very low heat. After 30 minutes, take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, quickly place a clean dish towel over the pan, and return the lid to the pan. The towel serves to absorb moisture to prevent the rice from becoming waterlogged. Let the dish sit for another 10 minutes, remove the dish towel, and then add 1 ½ tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, ¼ cup cilantro leaves, and ½ cup dill leaves, all chopped.

The final step is to make a quick yogurt sauce to go with the chicken and rice. I remember the first time I made this dish I omitted the yogurt, under the assumption that it wouldn’t make that big of a difference. When I finally decided to give the yogurt a try I realized that I had made a significant mistake the first time. The tangy yogurt cuts through the meaty, deep flavor of the dish. Combine 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt with 2 tablespoons of high quality olive oil. Serve alongside the chicken and rice.

Sometimes the beauty of a recipe is not necessarily in the final product but in the path that led you to it. My path to this recipe seems rather serendipitous given that I merely stumbled upon on it the newspaper on that warm summer day. I, as well as my friends and family, have fallen for a dish that seems so simple upon first glance. While there are only a handful of components, it is important that the ingredients are of high quality and all the steps are executed well. The combination of flavors is so warm and comforting that this recipe certainly deserves a spot in your cool weather recipe repertoire. It has surely become an unbreakable part of mine.

Julia Sementelli is a second-year Nutrition Communication & Behavior Change student and Boston-based registered dietitian who works in a local hospital and also counsels private clients. You can find her on Instagram (@julia.the.rd.eats- Follow her!) where she shares her love of real food, like this chicken and rice dish.

Putting a Pause on Peanut Butter Panic: New Guidelines Seek to Reduce Peanut Allergy Risk

by Erin Child

Do you like peanut butter? So do I. I’m kind of obsessed. Perhaps you add it to your smoothie bowl, drizzle it artfully on your Instagram worthy oatmeal, or, if you’re in grad school, it’s part of your PB&J. After all, that is the cheapest, easiest thing to make. But what if you had to take the PB out of the PB&J, and eliminate it from your diet and your life? This is a growing reality for many in the United States, with outdated, misinformed guidelines being blamed for the recent spike in peanut allergies. Read on to explore the revolutionary research that has spurred the creation of new guidelines, and why Americans need to change how we handle peanut exposure in childhood.

I recently stopped eating peanut butter in any way that could be deemed pretty or practical. Instead, you can find me in my room, with the door shut, maniacally shoveling peanut butter into my mouth with a plastic spoon.

This all started at the beginning of 2017. No, it is not some bizarre New Year’s resolution or diet trend. Rather, a new roommate moved in. She’s a great girl – kind, thoughtful, willing to learn how to properly load a dishwasher – and massively, catastrophically allergic to peanuts. She is also allergic to tree nuts and soy, but peanuts are THE BIG BAD. They are the reason why I spent the week before her arrival scrubbing my kitchen from top to bottom and running every dish and utensil (even the wooden ones, to my chagrin) through the dishwasher. And there is now an EpiPen® in our kitchen. Just as they are on some airlines, peanuts are now banned from the general living areas of my house, and thus I & my beloved jar of peanut butter have been sequestered to my room.

Many of you have probably dealt with peanut-free schools or day cares, or been informed to not consume any peanut products on your flight. Peanut allergy rates in children in the United States have quadrupled from the late 1990s (less than 0.5%) to about 2% today, and are the leading cause of anaphylaxis or death from food allergies. Thanks to my new-found awareness, I have become extremely self-conscious about eating peanut butter in public spaces. On the bus the other day some peanut butter dripped from my sandwich to the seat. I panicked, thinking “What is the chance this spill is going to wind up hurting some little kid?” (I hope they are not licking the seats on the bus, but still.)

Coupled with my new roommate’s arrival, I was fascinated to find that peanut allergies have been back in the news. On January 5th, 2017, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) published new guidelines for practitioners about when to introduce peanuts to high-risk, medium-risk, and low-risk infants. High-risk infants with severe eczema and/or an egg allergy should be introduced to peanuts between 4 to 6 months. Medium-risk infants with mild eczema should be introduced to peanuts by 6 months, and low-risk infants without eczema or other allergies can be introduced to peanuts any time after they have been introduced to solid foods.

These guidelines fit in with the dual-allergen exposure hypothesis. This suggests that children are first exposed to food particles through their skin as infants. This exposure primes their immune systems to treat the food proteins like invaders and build up defenses against it. If the food is eaten years later, the child has an acute allergic reaction because their immune system had ample time to prepare. Children with eczema have weakened skin barriers and are much more likely to experience repeated skin exposure to food allergens. This leads to an increased chance of an allergic reaction once they eat the food. Current research now supports this hypothesis, and also suggests that by shortening the time between skin exposure and ingestion, we will reduce the number of acute allergic reactions. The sooner an infant starts eating an allergen, the more likely the body will adjust to it without having time to bsuild up strong defenses against it.

These new guidelines on peanut exposure from NIAID seek to correct for guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2000. The 2000 guidelines were based on only a few tests done on hypoallergenic infant formula feeding, yet conclusively recommended that infants at high-risk for peanut allergies wait until 3 years of age to first try peanuts. Based on the newest findings, it appears that this advice was ill advised. My roommate, n=1, was born in the mid-1990s when delaying peanut exposure was coming into vogue. She had severe eczema an infant, and following doctors’ recommendations, wasn’t introduced to peanuts until somewhere between 18-24 months old. She is equally fascinated with the new research, and wishes there was some way to know if the outcome would have been different had she tried them at a younger age.

Peanut allergies are more common in the US, UK, and Australia, which are also the countries that have historically had the most stringent recommendations around peanut introduction. As doctors and researchers sought to figure out why peanut allergies were ballooning, they looked to countries with very low peanut allergy rates, like Israel, where infants are introduced to peanuts at early ages. In Israel, instead of Cheerios, infants are given a peanut based snack, called Bamba, as one of their first foods. In other developing countries, infants are exposed to peanuts early on—both in their environment and in their food. These other countries also have much lower allergy rates.

In 2015, NIAID funded the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study to determine whether early exposure to peanuts would decrease the incidence of peanut allergies. The UK study was a randomized controlled trial including 640 infants between 4 and 11 months of age with severe eczema and/or egg allergy. The infants were split into two groups (based on skin prick test results for peanuts) and then randomized to either eat or avoid peanuts until 60 months old (5 years). For infants in the negative skin prick test group, 13.7% of those who avoided peanuts had developed an allergy and only 1.9% of those who ate peanuts developed an allergy (P<0.001). For infants in the positive skin prick test group, 35.3% who of those who avoided peanuts had developed an allergy and 10.6% of those who ate peanuts developed an allergy (P=0.004). These results were significant and stunning, prompting the formulation of the current NIAID guidelines.

So, should we all start slathering our babies in peanut butter? Maybe. (As always, talk to your pediatrician). Food allergy science is an evolving field, and what is true today may not hold true a decade down the line. But based on the significance of the current research and the lower peanut allergy rates in cultures and countries that do not limit peanut exposure, the evidence strongly indicates that parents in the United States should change their approach.

Only 20% of children diagnosed with peanut allergies will grow out of them. The vast majority, like my roommate, are allergic for life. For now, research on reducing peanut allergies in adults is limited, making it unlikely that we will be eliminating any allergies anytime soon. So for now, I will continue to eat my peanut butter in my room. Alone.

Erin Child is a second semester NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program and this is her first article for the Sprout. She loves cooking (usually with Friends or Parks & Rec on in the background). She hates brownies. (Seriously.) As the Logistics Co-Chair for the Student Research Conference, she looks forward to seeing everyone there on April 8th!

WIC at the Crossroads of the Opioid Epidemic

by Danièle Todorov

The complexity and pervasiveness of the opioid epidemic has forced government agencies to be innovative with their resources. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in a prime position to care for pregnant women affected by the epidemic and has stepped up to the plate.

In January of 2016, then Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was appointed by President Obama to lead an interagency taskforce to address the opioid epidemic in rural America. Secretary Vilsack, who’s been outspoken about his own mother’s struggle with prescription drug addiction, knew that compassion and collaboration would be vital. His agency, the USDA, has unique resources and relationships in rural areas, putting it in a prime position to address the epidemic.

Addressing the epidemic is no simple task. According to the CDC, 91 Americans died daily from opioid overdose in 2015. Nearly half of these deaths involved a prescription opioid, used in the treatment of pain. In a town hall meeting in Missouri last July, Secretary Vilsack stated that due to “the devastating toll that opioid misuse has taken on our communities, and particularly rural areas, I have tasked USDA with creatively using all of the resources at our disposal to stem the tide of this epidemic” [1]. Interestingly, Secretary Vilsack highlighted WIC as a resource that could be creatively used. “For many women”, he stated, “WIC is their first point of entry into the healthcare system, and we have an opportunity to intercept and potentially prevent dangerous health outcomes for both the mother and the child” [1].

Pain management is an important part of pregnancy care. The prescription of opioids for pain in pregnancy is increasingly common; 1 in 5 Medicaid-enrolled women were prescribed an opioid at some point during their pregnancy in 2014 [2]. However, the effect of opioids on birth outcomes is understudied. In utero opioid exposure may be associated with preterm delivery and low birth weight [3]. Exposed neonates may develop withdrawal symptoms, a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is associated with increased risk of seizures and breathing difficulties [3]. Similarly understudied are the rates of opioid abuse during pregnancy. We do know that pregnant women with substance abuse problems are particularly vulnerable to food and job insecurities and unstable housing, which exacerbate potential health complications [4].

The healthcare system often stigmatizes and underserves pregnant women with substance abuse problems. However, WIC is increasing its ability to engage them in care. WIC’s mission is to promote the health of low-income women and their children by providing nutritious food, health education, and referrals. Starting in 2014, WIC agencies have increased staff training surrounding substance abuse [1]. Staff are better equipped to notice potential substance abuse, to educate WIC participants about the dangers of substance abuse during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and to connect them with local resources. These expanded roles align with WIC’s mission, not only because they aim to protect the health of the women they serve, but because WIC “acknowledges that substance use is incompatible with good nutrition” [5].

WIC is forming relationships with women at a promising point in time in their lives. In their staff training guide, WIC cites a study showing that women are “more motivated to improve their lifestyle and health habits during periods when they make the transition from one life situation or role to another… WIC participants are a natural target audience for substance use information because they are, by definition, in the life transition stage of pregnancy and new motherhood” [5].

WIC is playing an important part in the collaborative response to the epidemic. As the director of the USDA, Secretary Vilsack understood that a holistic response was the only effective solution and embraced President Obama’s mandate. “This disease isn’t a personal choice,” says Secretary Vilsack, “and it can’t be cured by willpower alone. It requires responses from whole communities, access to medical treatment, and an incredible amount of support. To me, our mandate is clear: don’t judge, just help” [6]. Secretary Vilsack’s endorsement of his replacement as Secretary of Agriculture, nominee Sonny Perdue, gives hope that the USDA will continue this vital endeavor.

Sources

  1. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Substance Misuse Prevention Resources for Low Income Pregnant Women and Mothers In Order to Battle the Opioid Epidemic, U. Office of Communications, Editor. 2016.
  2. Desai, R.J., et al., Increase in prescription opioid use during pregnancy among Medicaid-enrolled women. Obstetrics and gynecology, 2014. 123(5): p. 997.
  3. Patrick, S.W., et al., Prescription opioid epidemic and infant outcomes. Pediatrics, 2015. 135(5): p. 842-850.
  4. Sutter, M.B., S. Gopman, and L. Leeman, Patient-centered Care to Address Barriers for Pregnant Women with Opioid Dependence. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 2017. 44(1): p. 95-107.
  5. Substance Use Prevention: Screening, Education, and Referral Resource Guide for Local WIC Agencies, F.a.N.S. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Editor. 2013.
  6. USDA. Addressing the Heroin and Prescription Opioid Epidemic. 2016 02/17/17].

Danièle Todorov is a first-year nutritional epidemiology student with a focus on pregnancy nutrition and birth outcomes.

 

Exiting the Echo Chamber

by Kathleen Nay

Many of us were unexpectedly blindsided by the results of the 2016 Presidential Election, but maybe we shouldn’t have been. Four Friedman students saw a need for greater diversity in our political discourse, and decided to do something about it. They piloted Let’s Talk, a four-week program designed to help fellow students engage in more respectful, tolerant, and empathetic dialogue with people of diverse political perspectives.

On November 9 of last year, I woke up reeling. I had truly not expected the results of the previous evening. In the days and weeks leading up to the election I had felt lighthearted. I was sure that someone as awful as Donald Trump couldn’t win the presidency. I felt optimistic that we’d soon have our first female president. I believed, generally, in the goodness of America.

So to wake up to a Trump presidency was, for me, devastating. I felt utterly blindsided. Looking around at the somber faces of my fellow Boston commuters that morning, I recognized that I wasn’t alone in my stupefaction.

It seems painfully, unnervingly obvious now, but at the time I wondered, how did we not see this coming? What did we miss? In the days and weeks immediately following the election, the answer surfaced in the form of two words: “echo chamber.” Apparently, these exist and we—or at least, I—live in one. Worse, it’s an echo chamber of my own making, thanks to my liberally curated social media feeds and preferred news outlets.

Shortly after Election Day I attended a presentation given by J.J. Bartlett, President of Fishing Partnership Support Services, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for the health and wellbeing of fishermen and their families. In his talk, he said something that felt like a punch to the gut: “We ignore the primal scream of blue-collar workers at our own peril.” The words cut so deeply that I wrote them down. I knew that, as a student studying agriculture policy and hoping to someday work among and advocate for farmers and ranchers—the rural working class—I could no longer afford to ignore the primal scream that elected Donald J. Trump.

Fellow Friedman students Eva Greenthal, Kelly Kundratic, Hannah Kitchel, and Laura Barley had been awakened to the same realization—and decided to do something about it. “I did not personally know a single person who voted for Trump, and I really wanted to understand their motivations,” wrote Eva, in an email to me. “Frustrated by the lack of ‘opinion diversity’ at Friedman, I knew I would have to look beyond our university to gain this insight.” So she made a plan, joined forces with Kelly, Hannah, and Laura, and applied for funding from the Tisch Fund for Civic Engagement to pilot Let’s Talk, a research study designed to help students of diverse political leanings “exit the echo chamber.”

They partnered with Kelly’s alma mater, the West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design. While several school names were tossed around, WVU’s Davis College was an ideal candidate because, similar to the Friedman School, they offer graduate degrees in both agriculture and human nutrition. The program would work like this: Participants at both schools would dedicate 90 minutes per week over four weeks to ‘meet’ virtually and discuss the future of food, nutrition and agriculture over the course of the new administration, with the intent to identify common goals across party lines. The organizers would administer pre- and post-surveys, to assess whether participants’ perspectives on political topics changed after hearing the perspectives, hopes, and fears of their peers. Key objectives of the program were to promote mutual respect, tolerance, and understanding, and to challenge political stereotypes. Eva connected with Ask Big Questions (ABQ), an organization that provides dialogue facilitation training, so that the team could learn to lead positive and productive conversations.

The ABQ format is simple. It’s predicated on the idea that “big questions” are those that matter to everyone, anyone can answer, and invite people to share from their own experiences. By contrast, “hard questions” are those that matter to some people and require a level of expertise to answer; they tend to close conversational spaces and lead to debates about who is right and wrong. (Political arguments are often framed by these types of questions, appealing to people’s certainties of “right” and “wrong,” “truth” and “alternative truth.”)

Big Questions vs. Hard Questions. AskBigQuestions.org

Big Questions vs. Hard Questions. AskBigQuestions.org

Using the ABQ model, the Let’s Talk team devised big questions that, while tied to political issues, they felt everyone could relate to. These included “How do we connect?,” “What do we assume?,” and “Who are we responsible for?” By design, these questions are broad and ambiguous. But Eva, Kelly, Hannah and Laura, along with the facilitators at WVU, coupled the questions with media clips—PSA videos, TED Talks, and news media addressing food-and-agriculture issues—to give them context and guide more in-depth conversation.

“I like that this format for conversation allows me to speak from my experiences to explain why I feel the way I do about difficult topics,” writes Kelly. “Too often we see others engaging in conversation that can be either very defensive or offensive, and no one leaves…feeling accomplished. When you learn to speak with your experiences, it’s easier to see others as culminations of experience, and have a better understanding of the topic and the speakers.”

Laura added that keeping communication lines open with certain family members that voted for Trump has, for her, been of utmost importance in preserving those relationships since the election. She wanted to help facilitate that for others through Let’s Talk. To ensure respectful dialogue throughout the course of the project, participants brainstormed an “Agreement of Mutual Responsibility” designed to hold one another accountable. Among the things participants were mutually responsible for were directives to use “I” statements, to speak from personal experience as often as possible, and to listen with intent to understand.

Let's Talk Project Goals and Agreement of Mutual Understanding. Photos: Kathleen Nay

Let’s Talk Project Goals and Agreement of Mutual Responsibility. Photos: Kathleen Nay

When asked why they feel Let’s Talk is an important endeavor for the Friedman School to take on, all four organizers agreed that while interdisciplinary work is a cornerstone of the Friedman agenda, there’s a level of political diversity missing from our education. “We need more interdisciplinary work that also crosses state lines and regions,” says Hannah. Laura adds that Let’s Talk “feels like a much-needed expansion of our essential coursework, and delivers us from circulating the same policy discussions that we have in class.” They hope that Let’s Talk can serve as a replicable model that other schools might use to facilitate dialogue among students of varying political persuasions.

As a Let’s Talk participant, I was eager to engage in political discourse with the students at WVU, but I frequently felt frustrated when our 90-minute sessions ended just as the conversation was getting deep. Eva acknowledges that time has been a challenge from the beginning—the time needed to adequately develop the project since the idea formed in November, the time that each organizer was able to commit to planning and preparation, and the amount of time they felt they could fairly ask participants to dedicate each week. But the fact that so many students signed up to participate, despite adding an extra 90 minutes per week to everyone’s already-busy schedules, speaks volumes: Friedman students value opportunities for cross-political dialogue.

Although I’ve been disappointed that the time constraints have capped the length and depth of our Let’s Talk sessions, I’m encouraged. I’m encouraged by the initiative of my Friedman colleagues and inspired by their clear-eyed vision for political discourse that is respectful, tolerant, and empathetic. I’m hopeful, too, that although Let’s Talk has now ended, our conversations won’t; one component of the program has been to match participants with email “pen pals” at the partner school for future correspondence.

While I was disappointed that our discussions didn’t go deeper, I feel that even after only four weeks, I am better equipped to confront my own assumptions and to listen to why, not just what, people believe. Let’s Talk introduced me to a toolbox of conversation techniques that will make me more receptive to diversified political dialogue. It’s an important first step toward shattering our personally- and artificially-crafted echo chambers. The Friedman School has work to do. And I do, too.

Kathleen Nay is an AFE/UEP student in her second year. Eva Greenthal is a first year FPAN MS/MPH student. Kelly Kundratic, Hannah Kitchel and Laura Barley are first year AFE students. Let’s Talk was funded by the Tisch Fund for Civic Engagement, the Friedman School, Friedman Student Council, and three generous individual donors.