That’s So “Friedman”: Unspoken Food Rules at a School of Nutrition

by Sheryl Lynn Carvajal

We are nutrition students fighting the fight against obesity, food deserts, and working towards policy change. So why are unspoken food rules and silent judgment commonplace within the walls of Jaharis? Take a look into what students have to say about this Friedman culture.

jaharis-building

The Jaharis Building at the Friedman School

The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy brings students together from around the world to learn about nutrition, and to address domestic and international food issues. Some are working toward degrees in public health, and others are taking courses to become registered dietitians. With a focus on nutrition research and public policy, the efforts of students and faculty are making strides in improving national and global health.

That said, within the walls of Jaharis, we students live in a unique bubble when it comes to food, and the so-called “Friedman culture” is full of unspoken food rules.

As part of my dual MS/MPH degree with the Friedman School and the School of Medicine, I took the course Qualitative Tools for Research and Programs (PH225) last semester. In this class, I decided to investigate this “Friedman culture” from the eyes of Friedman students, as well as students who belong to different programs but share our campus. After speaking with students to gather formative research, there were some common themes that I observed:

Judgment

A hand-drawn picture posted in the student lounge in Jaharis

Though fast food is ubiquitous in our country, there is a strong stigma associated with bringing and eating it on campus. This is one of the unspoken food rules, and many students feel like they have to be closet fast food eaters. One student said, “If someone brought McDonald’s into Jaharis, I think other people would probably judge, just because of the way I see side-eyes when people pop open soda cans.”

Another student walked in one day with a small coffee and four McNuggets, and “I felt like I was walking into church with drugs in my hand. I didn’t even have French fries!”

Several students revealed to me that they occasionally eat McDonald’s, just not anywhere near campus. The idea seems to be that ‘we know better,’ and if a ‘rule’ is broken, an underlying sense of judgment may come along with it.

Social Pressure

Class of 2014 Gift

When it comes to food at Friedman, it goes beyond just what we put into our mouths. With the diversity of the programs and concentrations (i.e. Nutrition Communication, Food Policy and Applied Nutrition, Agriculture, Food, and Environment, Nutritional Epidemiology, and Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition), our eyes are opened to the environmental factors of food, in addition to health and nutrition. If you walk into any classroom, you’re bound to see several reusable containers, and very few disposable water bottles or utensils.

“There is definitely pressure at Friedman to eat ‘like a Friedmanite,’” one student said. “Salad in a Tupperware, whole carrots, apples and peanut butter for snack, water bottles. It’s a culture.”

Mason jars are a staple for toting food. (Even the class gift for the spring 2014 graduates was a mason jar!) Furthermore, at a school function that combined nutrition and public health students, one student commented on another’s eating from a mason jar, “That’s so Friedman.”

Competitiveness

The last theme that I found when asking and observing Friedman students about the culture and unspoken food rules was a feeling of competition when it comes to food. One student had an all-encompassing view of this theme:

“I wonder if there is a sort of competitive nature that goes beyond simply ‘wanting to eat salads with other salad eaters,’ but more like silently watching who has the biggest salad, who has the most mason jar-filled food, who’s drinking the greenest smoothie, etc. While we may claim that we don’t judge others outside the school, I think sometimes there is a certain level of proud pretentiousness around some of our food choices particularly in a student vs. student realm.”

Outside the walls of Friedman, several students have stated that they do eat differently when they are at home, or at a restaurant. Some say they always have baked goods in their apartments. Others will go to the drive-thru on road-trips.

We understand that not everyone thinks about food in the same way that we do, and that is the main reason why we are here. We want to help people’s diets and improve the food systems. We share a common goal, so why are there feelings of judgment when it comes to the foods we eat at school?

“Maybe the quasi-professional environment at Friedman makes us feel judged or competitive,” one student said. While it may, at times, seem understandable that we hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to food choices, I think it’s also important to build each other up in our fight for a healthier world. As professionals, we can’t always expect our potential patients, clients or program participants to only eat fruits and vegetables and to always practice portion control. Similarly, we shouldn’t expect the same of our peers. After all, with everything we are learning about food, we should be able to appreciate and enjoy all kinds of it without guilt or fear of judgment.

Sheryl Lynn Carvajal is a third-year MS/MPH student, and co-editor of the Friedman Sprout. When she is not at school, you can find her slinging beers and cocktails at Pastoral in the Fort Point neighborhood, cheering on her beloved Florida State Seminoles football team, or playing with her new rescue pup, a handsome lab mix.

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Comments

  1. Jamie Picardy says:

    Thank you! Couldn’t agree more.

  2. I wrote this for America’s Test Kitchen two years after graduating from the AFE program. The intro sentence apparently still holds true! http://www.americastestkitchenfeed.com/do-it-yourself/2012/09/how-to-make-thai-green-curry-paste/

  3. I wrote this two years ago for America’s Test Kitchen. The intro sentence is based on the “unspoken rules” mentioned here: http://www.americastestkitchenfeed.com/do-it-yourself/2012/09/how-to-make-thai-green-curry-paste/

  4. Adele Hite, MPH RD says:

    “While it may, at times, seem understandable that we hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to food choices … ” There’s a world of judgment right in that statement. In other words, as nutrition students, it makes sense that you all would aspire to “eat healthy” as much as possible–not like the rest of the great unwashed masses. Thank goodness there will be a new crop of Friedman grads entering the world soon to take up this “civilizing mission.”

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