Cultural Foods Impact Work of Retail RDs

Cultural Foods Impact Work of Retail RDs

September 16, 2015

Across the retail dietetics industry, it’s a 50-50 split between wellness and disease management on where RDNs focus their time. And while other aspects of disease management (think medication or operations) remain relatively similar by culture or country of birth, nutrition guidance can vary greatly based on the shopper’s heritage. Nutrients of importance may be the same, but traditional foods and the cultural context of food can vary greatly.  Retail RDNs must be versed in these traditional foods and customs to most effectively meet the needs of all their shoppers.

According to 2013 US Census data, the five highest countries for immigration into the U.S. are China, India, Mexico, Philippines, and Dominican Republic. Understanding the traditional foods and practices of these countries is a consumer insight that can be helpful in building programs that effectively meet needs of a diverse customer base and potentially attract new shoppers.  

Traditional Chinese cooking looks for a healthful balance through the mixing of colors, flavors, textures and ingredients. There are distinct regional differences in the cooking styles in China, but rice is a staple throughout the country.  It is eaten several times a day and can be eaten at any meal. Scallions, bean sprouts, cabbage, and gingerroot are common. Tofu is an important protein sources, and while Chinese generally don’t eat much meat, they may consume some chicken and pork. Vegetables have a central role in Chinese cooking.  Much of what you see in U.S. Chinese restaurants is not traditional to their food customs. Vegetarianism is common in China. Hot tea is the most common beverage drank.

In northern India, the staple food is wheat, while in eastern India, it is rice. Chicken, fish and mutton are the primary meats eaten. In general and for religious reasons, Hindus do not eat beef and Muslims do not eat pork. Vegetables are central to their eating habits, and spices play an important role in Indian cooking, ranging from mild to spicy. Herbs and spices are also used in alternative medicine practices. Scratch cooking is still common in Indian households, but more prepared foods are available and the trend away from scratch cooking is occurring as more women work outside the home. Breakfast is typically a large meal, eaten early.  A small tea meal is common in the afternoon, with dinner often eaten late in the evening.

Foodways vary greatly by region, but corn, beans and hot peppers are common across the country. Northern regions use more beef and flour, seafood is more common in the south, and in the Midwestern part of the country, a seasoned lamb dish called barbacoa is common. Both vegetables and fruits are important in Mexican eating patterns.  As more fast and convenience food has become available in Mexico, obesity rates have started to rise. Three meals a day are typically eaten in Mexico, with lunch being the heaviest.

Rice, fish and vegetables are staple foods in Filipino eating habits, and meats such as beef and pork are eaten less often. Flavors and ingredients vary greatly, and include garlic, onion, coconut, potatoes yams and flavors such as tamis, asim and alat. Adobo, a meat dish cooked in vinegar, salt and garlic is traditional. Breakfast in the Philippines is typically comprised of rice and leftovers from the prior evening. Lunch and dinner are similar in composition, comprised of rice, vegetables and meat or fish, with fruit for dessert.  

Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic cuisine is predominantly made up of a combination of Spanish, indigenous Taíno, and African influences. The main meal is served at midday and can last up to two hours.  The most popular lunch dish is La banera (named as it pulls the colors of their national flag), and includes some variation of rice, red beans and a small amount of meat (chicken, beef, pork or goat). This meal is typically served with a small salad or plate of boiled vegetables. Sofrito, made from onions, garlic, cilantro, sweet peppers, and tomatoes cooked in lard, is commonly used in many dishes. A dish of boiled and mashed plantains called mangu is commonly eaten at breakfast with eggs or meat. Rum, smoothies and fruit juices are favorite beverages.

Information SourceGlobal Food Practices, Cultural Competency and Dietetics, A Supplement to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, May 2015.