A+ RD’s list of the best books for dietetics students – and all other future health professionals! We read all the books, so we’re confident in our recommendations. Below are some reviews of these books, and you can find our full book lists at: https://bookshop.org/shop/aplusrd
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Henrietta Lacks was a young Black woman and mother who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. As she underwent the grueling treatment that was common at the time, her doctors at Johns Hopkins took biopsies of her cervix. Much of the treatment and tests were done without her fully informed consent. Even though Henrietta died of her cancer, the doctors found that her cells did not. The cells from the biopsy could continuously reproduce – a medical miracle. This made her cells prime for use in research, and the HeLa cells, as they became known, would change medical research forever. But no one stopped to think of the woman from whom the cells came – even as scientists and labs made money off their findings and Henrietta’s family struggled in poverty.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks shows you (just) some of the ways Black patients have been taken advantage of in medicine and healthcare. Racism in healthcare is a topic all future clinicians should study and understand, and The Immortal Life is a great place to start in your learning. The book is driven by the personal stories from the Lacks family, which ground the overall exploration of racism, ethics, and justice in real-life experiences. It’s difficult to learn about these concepts in the abstract, so instead, in this book, you can follow the Lacks family as they grapple with what happened to their mother and how they are still fighting for justice today.
Note: it is important to recognize that this book was written by a white author. Rebecca strives to approach the story with humility and let the family speak for themselves. She wanted to use her platform as a journalist to bring light to a story of injustice that was largely unknown. But we should always remember that stories of marginalized people are best told by members of the community themselves.
Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World by Bettina Elias Siegal
If you have dual interests in pediatrics and public health, this is the book for you. Bettina is someone we would lovingly call a “friend of dietitians.” Her background is in law, but when she recognized the challenges of feeding her kids in an environment that doesn’t support healthy choices, she began researching how to make a difference. She’s a bit of an “accidental activist” and has become a recognized voice in nutrition advocacy.
This book is aimed primarily toward parents, but anyone interested in food policy will enjoy this “beginner’s guide” to advocacy. Unlike most books written for parents that focus on individual feeding practices (we love those books too!), Kid Food evaluates the systems and environments that influence kids’ nutrition.
The book starts by explaining how children’s tastes are evolutionarily designed to not like foods with strong flavors and crave high-calorie foods. This protected the children in caveman times (cavebabies?) from eating anything that was poisonous and encouraged them to eat foods that would prevent starvation. Good for cavebabies, not so relevant these days. But this preference for bland, high-calorie foods (which kids will grow out of naturally around kindergarten-age) is exploited by food companies who make snacks that satisfy these primordial instincts without providing nutrition.
From there – a chapter that alone is enough to change how you think about feeding kids – Bettina takes you on a crash course in kid food. The book covers child psychology, food advertising, school food, the concept of “treats,” childhood obesity, and the national policies that affect all of this. Woven throughout and in its own chapter at the end are ideas for how anyone can advocate for better policies and communities. Kid Food is a fascinating, frustrating, and inspiring look at the world of pediatric nutrition.
If you happened to attend FNCE 2018, you know that José Andrés loves dietitians. “One of you should be President,” he said to the audience of dietitians as the Keynote Speaker. He is a lover of food and the community that it brings. He also believes in the power of food to heal. That’s why when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, José traveled to the island to help provide meals to struggling families. What he found was not only sheer physical destruction, but also all the challenges of bureaucracy and politics getting in the way of helping people. This is coupled with politics of being a U.S. Territory without the full rights of a state or an independent government that Puerto Ricans must contend with.
Disaster nutrition is not a topic that is often taught in dietetics programs – mostly because it’s so unpredictable. But when a disaster strikes, media coverage often focuses on physical damage and death. People on the outside might forget that those who survived the storm are now struggling to survive the dearth of resources.
José takes you on an intimate journey as he works to help feed people. You might think that a famous chef could easily mobilize a food operation, but José shows readers how challenging such an endeavor can be when all of the infrastructure has been destroyed. José also never flaunts his “star power.” He is a successful restaurant owner and Food Network star, which certainly helps him at times to secure funding and source food. But he focuses so much of his energy on building genuine relationships, creating communities of volunteers, and empowering local suppliers whenever possible. Although José is a celebrity chef, his model of building his organization World Central Kitchen (on the fly, on the ground in Puerto Rico) is one that anyone can use to create meaningful, community-oriented programs.