Jeanine Stice thought she wanted a career in the hotel business. Until she took Nutrition 101, that is. She quickly changed her career plans and her major to Home Economics.
When she graduated in 1987, she was one of the first recipients of a B.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition. Living now in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and three sons, Stice recently wrote in her Statesman Journal column, “I was in the first class to graduate from Washington State University with a degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition rather than Home Economics. Another senior and I lobbied the dean to make this change as we both felt it was a disservice to dole out a degree that would be difficult to market in a world that valued the home less and science more. We made our point. He agreed to change the degree’s name.”
The degree in FSHN has served Stice well. She’s worked as a dietician in a wide variety of settings. Her degree in FSHN led to an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Stice was impressed with Mass Gen’s dietetics program: the original brick ovens still in use, and making everything the hospital served, including ice cream, from scratch every day.
A year later she earned a Master’s in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill led to a position as a clinician at a hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. She arrived just in time for Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Incredibly destructive, Hugo famously destroyed the Ben Sawyer Bridge, ripped up the loblolly pine forest north of the city, tore the roof off City Hall, and battered the populous coastline.
Knowing the storm was on the way, Stice wanted to evacuate along with almost everyone else in the city. But duty called: she was needed at the hospital. She packed everything important to her in her Honda Civic (papers, her computer–there wasn’t much in those days, she says), parked it in the hospital garage and prayed for the best. After working all night moving supplies (the patients were on floors 3 and higher, while the kitchen and food were located on the flooding first floor) upper floors and protected interior spaces, Stice says that coming outside the next morning was “kind of Wizard of Oz—the town looked nothing like it did the previous day.”
Shortly before Hurricane Hugo, Stice met her future husband through a common friend from Chapel Hill. While he was earning his medical degree, Stice worked as a nutritionist, doing home visits and collecting data on high-risk, low birth weight infants in order to better calibrate nutrition care after hospital discharge.
As her sons were born, Stice continued working part time as a pediatric dietitian and later in adult weight management. She also developed an internship program for the State of South Carolina that enabled home economists to become registered dieticians. The program is still in use because it “allows people with families to move up in their careers,” she said. A lot of the work Stice did to get the program running was bridge building between partners, making sure that there were willing preceptors in hospitals near the potential interns. “So many home economists could never have gone to Boston or wherever to do an internship,” Stice said.
“What’s been so great about dietetics is the range of work you can do—it’s amazing. And I never realized that when I was an undergraduate. I thought dieticians just worked in hospitals.”
Although she pressed for a degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition, rather than Home Economics, Stice has come full circle. Working with low-income and high-risk families has taught her that “people living in poverty don’t always have what dieticians recommend,” she says. She’s thinking of that quintessential diet food, chicken breast. “So I’ve learned to ask people to make lists of their favorite foods and the foods they actually have on hand.”
“The weakness of dietetics is trying to teach people everything we know. But the message is simple,” she says. It’s a common-sense, home-ec message: “Half your plate should be vegetables,” she says. She drives this thought home by pointing out that “Whole foods don’t have the marketing dollars behind them that packaged foods do. Your banana does not have Shrek on it!”
So how do you compete with processed foods endorsed by cartoon characters?
“We need gardens. Kids who plant their own gardens are more likely to eat vegetables. Gardens counter TV ads and build community.”
Now a columnist and blogger for Salem’s Statesman Journal (statesmanjournal.com), Stice regularly writes opinion about nutrition, the importance of growing food, and the skills families need to stay healthy in an increasingly processed world.