In January, I had the pleasure of partaking in “The Food Climate Connection,” an informative webinar for dietitians hosted by the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (DPG) and the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition DPG. The goal of the webinar was to show the connection between food choices and the environment, along with research data about views held by my fellow Registered Dietitians (RDs) in relation to plant-based eating and climate change.

As an ethical vegan and a registered dietitian, I am aware of the impact our food choices have on the planet, ourselves and other creatures. The first portion of the webinar discussing the environmental burden of and strategies to decrease a meat-centric diet was nothing new to me, but it was good to hear RDs actually talk about the topic. The second speaker was a researcher & RD interested in the views held by RDs when it comes to climate change, plant-based diets, and how these views impact their practice and personal behaviors. This is the information that left me with that feeling of “Ugh.”

The research was a cross-sectional, internet-based survey of 570 RDs. The respondents were overwhelmingly female and Caucasian (which is par for the course when it comes to my profession and a topic for another time). 75% answered that they strongly agree/agree that climate change is an important issue; however, 62% do not engage in climate change mitigation activities (and I cannot comment on what these activities were). Nonetheless, that is a sad statistic. But the most shocking one of this survey was the following:

50% of those surveyed strongly agreed/agreed that animal products are essential to a healthy diet.

Half. Good grief, where did our education system go wrong in teaching these nutrition professionals? A dismal 37% stated they felt comfortable promoting a vegan diet. Yikes!

These are frightening statistics, but not overly surprising. So much of our profession – especially in terms of conferences and continuing educations – is influenced by the meat, dairy and egg industries, food companies and “Big Pharma.” This has become such a hot topic within the RD community that an organization called Dietitians for Professional Integrity has been formed to “advocate for greater financial transparency” and end the Big Food sponsorship of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Despite these many conflicts of interest, for RDs to feel that animal products are essential – what?! Any dietitian with a knowledge of fundamental nutrition should know that isn’t the case. Plain and simple. Again, like I discussed in my last post about the Paleo fad, if you are opposed to veganism for whatever personal reason, leave that bias at the door of your practice as a nutrition professional. I sure do – as do many other reputable RDs.

It is a long-standing position within the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics that vegetarian and vegan diets are healthy. Yet, with only half of those surveyed believing it, how does this affect their practice when addressing vegan clients or those interested in exploring a diet change? What do we do as vegan practitioners with this information about our fellow RDs? It was not surprising that the study found that RDs who were aware that animal products played a part in climate change had a more favorable view of plant-based eating.

Currently, I hold the State Chair in Ohio as the coordinator for Vegetarian Nutrition DPG. I plan on contacting each district within the State to request to speak at local RD meetings regarding vegan nutrition. With education comes change – or at least I hope it does.