In spring 2014, Bastyr nutrition student Anita Bermann organized a free talk at Bastyr Center featuring 10 different nutrition students giving 5-minute health presentations on nutrition. But you might have seen her name before that, with her health tips published monthly for the past year in Northwest Primetime, along with many of her own recipes.
Learn how Bermann decided to organize this innovative talk in the below Q-and-A, which describes her path to Bastyr University, where she is pursuing a Master of Science in Nutrition with Didactic Program in Dietetics degree. Her recipes posted to the Bastyr University website include:
- Slow Death by Chocolate Cupcakes, which she made for attendees at the inaugural Death Cafe at Bastyr Center
- Wild Spring Pesto
- Smoky Ginger Butternut Soup
- Mighty Mushroom Chili
- Sumac and Cumin-Scented Beet Latkes with Poached Egg and Fresh Herb Pistou, winner of the Top Chef Bastyr 2013 competition
What was the path that led you to your current program at Bastyr?
"Like many Bastyr nutrition students, I have loved and/or hated food my entire life. My personal journey with food has been a fantastic expedition: as an enemy during my eating disorder and struggle with food intolerances, as a source of nourishment and inspiration during my lifelong kitchen adventures, and as a source of excitement braving the nettle harvest and eating cheese at midnight. No matter what else I tried to do with my life, I inevitably returned to food. I realized that my own experiences could allow me to find meaningful work as a guide on other people's journeys to build healthy relationships to food."
You have written nutrition articles all year for Northwest Primetime that include your own recipes. Tell us about your background in writing and cooking.
"I know it sounds strange, but I have a distinct memory of my first real 'meal.' It's actually my first memory, of a dish my parents called 'Hungarian noodles.' It was a sort of goulash with tomato sauce and green peppers, and I thought it was gross. My parents were peasant food gourmands, and encouraged me to begin my own experimentations at an early age. The day I arrived at my college's vegetarian co-op, with a full toolbag of bean, corn and tofu recipes, I took on the courageous (for a freshman) job of Head Cook. In my four years multiplying my peasant staples to feed the masses in Harkness Co-op, I learned how to make stir-fry without oil, cake without flour, and most importantly, how to turn any random assortment of groundcherries, fennel, peanut butter, and leftover granola into a meal. Those skills have served me well in my recent journalistic exploits, although to be honest, and Cynthia Lair will hate me for saying this, I hate recipes! I've never actually written most things I've invented. Cooking without recipes is cheaper and less wasteful.
"And as for writing, I have a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. I was a poet, but not poems about food. Most poems have to be about birds or the sky. Here's a Wendell Berry poem about food that I think resonates with the Bastyr experience:"
"Fall" by Wendell Berry
The wild cherries ripen, black and fat,
Paradisal fruits that taste of no man's sweat.
Reach up, pull down the laden branch, and eat;
When you have learned their bitterness, they taste sweet.
What inspired you to create the “Bite-Sized Nutrition” event?
"Interdisciplinary collaboration has always been very important to me. I wanted to create an event that would be a fun, easy introduction to the wonders of nutrition — for non-nutrition majors and community members — an event that would open a secret door into nutrition's fabulous heart. The "bite-sized" format was inspired by a PowerPoint revolution called Pecha Kucha, which was created by designers exhausted with the growing deluge of long, boring, text-heavy PowerPoints in the world. I've heard that when audience members viewing a presenter reading off a PowerPoint are hooked up to electrodes, they register comatose brain activity. I think nutrition students need to learn engaging presentation skills if we hope to inspire our future patients! My hope is that this event will continue in the future as a presentation training ground, and I'd love to see other departments get involved and teach us their passions!"
You’re currently working with patients in the Diabetes and Cardiovascular Wellness Care shift at Bastyr Center. How is that experience or any other clinical experience helping you prepare for your career?
"Working with diabetes patients is hopefully going to be a major focus of my career: I hope to specialize in nutritional endocrinology. I feel that hormonal issues underlie so many of our health issues, and yet hormones receive next to no attention in an allopathic medical environment. I'd love to be able to tailor diets to a full spectrum of hormonal imbalances. The DCWC is a great training ground for practicing diet therapy with complex patients, and for challenging assumptions. Even within Bastyr, naturopathic and nutrition students often learn conflicting diet information. It's wonderful to be able to work out those conflicts now, before we get out there and confuse our patients later!"
What do you hope to do once you graduate?
"Well, next year I'll be completing my dietetic internship through Bastyr, so you aren't rid of me yet! After that, however, I hope to move to a small city or town and start an integrative community clinic. I want to partner with a couple other natural practitioners, of course, because I can't bear the thought of I or my patients going forward without the wisdom of naturopaths, herbalists, and Asian medicine practitioners at the table. I have this vision of a beautiful clinic located on an organic CSA farm, with space for community gathering, a library, cooking classes, gardening classes, yoga classes — the works! For me, community is as important as kale for optimal health, and I'm hoping my clinic/community center will offer a heaping dose of it."
So why is community so important for health?
"Loneliness kills. Studies have found that loneliness in itself is a health risk factor which can lead to increased stress levels, poor sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, abuse of drugs and alcohol, and more. People who have adequate social relationships have been shown to have a 50 percent greater likelihood of survival than the lonely! Besides conquering loneliness, a strong community can build feelings of self-efficacy around healthy eating and exercise behaviors, and provide rationale for building a sustainable local foodshed. Better to eat kale with friends, than cake alone! (Although if cake with friends is on the table, it has my full support)."
Watch Anita's Bite-Sized Nutrition video on "Is Your Diet as Spicy as You Are?"
Watch the other Bite-Sized Nutrition talks on our YouTube page. Topics include:
- “The Amazing Honeybee” by Sarah Beyler
- “How Many Carbohydrates Should You Eat?” by Miranda Bryan
- “What is the Glycemic Index?” by Margaret Capron
- “Mindful Eating” by Lisa Carrigg
- “How to Feed Children” by Cassie Christopher
- “Eating for Depression” by Anna Herby
- “The Amazing Bean” by Katherine Metzelaar
- “Spring Seasonal Meals” by Virgina Newman
- “Deconstructing the Gluten-Free Phenomenon” by Aleta Storch