Dietitian’s career paths are like fruit trees
One of the best things about being in a line of work that impacts 100% of people on the planet, with the subject matter being food, is that the opportunities to support consumers in their quest for well-being seem endless. I often describe a dietitian’s career path as being like a beautiful fruit tree with a solid root base of science and food education that goes on to branch out in many directions as it grows. As an entrepreneurial dietitian, watching my branches grow has felt far more like play than work. Prime examples include working with professional athletes, mentoring students, authoring books, appearing on a cooking show and serving on the Dietitians of Canada Board of Directors. These weren’t directions I predicted, but I have found them very rewarding.
One branch that sprouted on my tree – somewhat accidentally – is that of a food product inventor. Although this is not something a dietitian might set out to do, it makes perfect sense that we would be food developers. We have an intimate understanding of food and nutrition, health issues, the challenges faced in finding the best foods for unique needs, grocery store products, cooking skills, feeding a busy family and so much more. Dietitians are smart, organized, creative multi-taskers capable of working alone or as a member of a team – all skills required in bringing a food to the marketplace.
A diagnosis and a new branch
As a recipe developer and avid baker, who together with my foodie husband make everything from artisan breads to homemade sausages, it was devastating when I faced a diagnosis of celiac disease in 2009 requiring a strict gluten-free diet for life. I always knew something was up but doctors often dismissed me with, “You’re too young” or “You’re that nutritionist, nothing’s wrong.”
Four years earlier and eight weeks after the birth of my son, I experienced life-changing unexplained complete loss of vision in a condition known as bilateral optic neuritis. It took a year to recover. Today I have about 80% normal vision and believe the “unexplained” nerve damage was possibly connected to my undiagnosed celiac disease. Fortunately, my gastrointestinal symptoms are long gone
Tears were shed and reality sunk in that artisan bread as I knew it would be forever changed. Always able to eat anything, I now feel even more compassion for people who have food intolerances. I wasted a ton of money trying too many lousy gluten free (GF) breads, pizzas and baked goods. Enough was enough; I refused to surrender great taste and quality!
My husband and I bought a small flour mill and in a storm of white powders – far worse than the dry wall dust of a renovation – we ground and tested every grain and legume ever grown over about a two year period. I discovered that many GF flours out there lacked fibre and nutrients and yielded only mediocre results in baking – while being expensive. (Fortunately, better choices are becoming available.) Still, I wondered why so few great quality legume-based flours exist when Canada is a leading producer of these foods of the future.
As a dietitian raised in Saskatchewan, with fantastic early mentors, I want Canadians to know more about the value of pulse crops. I wonder why lentils are not yet a staple in every Canadian kitchen. I also want people to know that bean-based products don’t have to taste “beany” and average.
So using Canadian-grown bean flour for protein and fibre, with tapioca and cornstarch added for lightness, I created a gluten-free flour. It also includes sorghum flour for texture and xanthan gum for lift, which is a pain to source elsewhere when you simply want to make a batch of muffins. I’ve had great success with the flour in everything from cookies to perogies. To support the flour, I published a GF version of “The 80-20 Cookbook: Eating for Energy Without Deprivation.”
There is always a food or nutrition solution
I named the flour Chuey’s Gluten Free Baking Blend because the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requires th
e word “blend” instead of “flour” when more than one grain is used. When I’d serve the finished goodies to friends, they’d always say they taste just like regular, non-GF baking and ask if I could bake for them. Never one to leave people without a solution when it comes to food in their lives, I decided to look into whether I could source the five ingredients in bulk, mix and bag it and ultimately sell the blend. I wanted people to know that quality GF baked goods are possible. However, I was unsure if this was something regular individuals, not from millionaire backgrounds, could do.
It turns out that with a few calls to the local health authority, CFIA and package designers, followed by sourcing ingredients and touring manufacturing facilities, and about a year of passion driven work (as a sideline to my main consulting work), it can be done! The BC-based grocery retailer Save-On-Foods and local gourmet food stores on Vancouver Island, as well as myself, now sell the product. Quietly, a young entrepreneur is sprouting in the background in our 10-year-old son. He has assisted in bagging the flour and selling it, initially at our local Farmer’s Market.
The branch grows and extends
This branch is now shooting off into a number of other directions, including conversations with food company executives about potentially making my blend their private label GF flour, auditioning for Dragon’s Den, and a couple other nifty things in the works that I won’t jinx by mentioning just yet.
At the end of it all, whether mine or anyone else’s brand, all I truly want is an affordable, nutritious, reliable GF flour for those consumers who need it. I so wished the Robin Hood GF flour lived up to my expectations. Fortunately, good, new GF flours are coming to market. I have more ideas for legume-based food products and if the right branch opens up at the right time, I might just walk out on it and see where it leads.
Branching out? Your food product journey could be next
Next time you’re shopping and see a food product and say, “I could have invented that,” I encourage you to truly mull over why it wasn’t you. What would it really take? Maybe it’s a branch you’ll find growing on your own career tree or perhaps you’ll be half way out on that branch when an incredible opportunity you would’ve never predicted sprouts up right in front of you!
Editor's note: I am sure that there are many dietitians out there with wonderful ideas for food products. Stop waiting for someone else to invent it -- you can do it! As our profession continues to flourish, I hope to see more dietitians taking on novel roles like this. I am excited to see what you create!
More pulse-based food products like Patricia’s may do well next year – 2016 is the International Year of Pulses! This may be the perfect year to get pulses into every Canadian’s kitchen.