Andy Bellatti Interview

Today, I share my interview with a colleague of mine whom I respect and admire, Andy Bellatti.
Andy Bellatti, MS, RD is a Las Vegas-based dietitian with a plant-centric and whole-food focus who takes an interest in food politics, deceptive food marketing, sustainability, and social justice. His work has been published in Grist, The Huffington Post, Today’s Dietitian, Food Safety News, and Civil Eats, among others. He is also the co-founder and Strategic Director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, a group that advocates for ethical and socially responsible partnerships within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
As a fellow Registered Dietitian, he is championing a very important cause in healthcare today…separating health policy from its deep ties to the food industry and he helped found Dietitians For Professional Integrity (DFPI). Here is his story of how this all unfolded….

JH: Andy, you’ve been intelligently bold in attracting attention to the dissonance between having our profession’s leading organization, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, being married to big food industry. Many dietitians disagree with this, but most of us remained essentially silent. Tell us what inspired you to stand up and take on this mission.

AB: I completed my nutrition education at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health; Dr. Marion Nestle (a role model who I’m also grateful to call a mentor) is a professor and past chair of that department. Fairly early into my studies I read her book “Food Politics”, which really opened my eyes.

As I went further in my education and started my career, I saw blatant examples of the food industry co-opting and misrepresenting science and shaping the discussion in its favor.

Earlier this year, public health lawyer Michele Simon (another colleague whose work has inspired me) released an investigative report about the Academy’s Big Food ties. That report received national attention, and that was when I decided it was time to band together with other dietitians and start a grassroots advocacy movement.

Throughout this entire effort, I often remind myself of what Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

JH: That is one of my favorite quotes! So tell us about the creation of Dietitians For Professional Integrity (DFPI). What is its mission and how do you envision its direction?

 

AB: DFPI’s central mission for now is to have the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sever its ties to Big Food. Some Dietetic Practice Groups within the Academy have also been working on this issue from the inside. Our efforts are not competitive, but rather complementary.

I like to use a pottery wheel as an analogy. When you’re using a pottery wheel, you need one hand to work inside and one hard to work outside. Similarly, you need dietitians to tackle this from inside the organization, and you also need some sort of external pressure.

In terms of our direction — a lot of it depends on what takes place over the next year. At this year’s conference, we had a brief meeting with current Academy President Dr. Glenna McCollum and Past-President Dr. Ethan Bergman. Our hope is to keep the dialogue going.
We recognize that systemic change takes time, but also have a timeline in mind of when we would like to see certain things addressed.

JH: It is highly commendable that you were able to simply initiate the conversation. You were able to collect a significant amount of signatures (you surpassed your goal of 25,000, yes?) on a Change.org petition from healthcare practitioners and others regarding a desire to sever ties between Big Food and AND, indicating a huge amount of support for DFPI’s purpose. Can you tell us about other ways people can help support your efforts?

 

AB: Our Change.org petition collected just over 25,000 signatures from dietitians, RDs-to-be, other health professionals, educators, health advocates, and concerned individuals who recognize that the Academy’s Big Food ties are problematic. Of those 25,000, roughly 1,200 came from dietitians and nutrition students.

This issue goes beyond just RDs. It’s a real problem when other health professionals and the public question our credibility.
There are several ways people can help support our efforts:
1. Help spread the word about DFPI. Many RDs are aware of our efforts, but there are many who have yet to learn about us (and some who have heard inaccuracies).
2. If you are an RD or RD-to-be, submit a “statement of concern” for our Facebook page. These are written testimonies that explain why RDs care about this cause. The more RDs speak out, the better our chances of success.
3. Early next year, we will announce other ways in which supporters can get involved in more tangible ways. Stay tuned.

JH: What about from the consumer perspective? What can we all do as consumers to inspire change? Education and voting with our dollar seems doable, but look at what has happened thus far regarding GMO labeling…Big Food money talks loudly and is hugely effective at confusing the public. Is there something more we can do to inspire clarity in nutrition?

AB: As Marion Nestle often points out, while “voting with your fork” makes sense and is valuable, you also can’t overlook the importance of “voting with your vote”.

You don’t have to be a member of Congress or the President of the United States to bring change. Change at the local level matters.
Become familiar with local (city, county, state) elections. Even if no one on the ballot is particularly focused on food issues, look for candidates who take a stance against corporate abuses, or someone who champions issues of environmental welfare.
Raising awareness is key, too .You can’t assume everyone has watched Food, Inc., or read “Fast Food Nation”. Nor should we assume that they will watch or read something because we recommend it. We need to be advocates in our own spheres and get the word out.
JH: Thank you so much for all of your critical work, Andy. As a Registered Dietitian, I am grateful to have you representing a greater good and will continue to support all of your efforts. How can people find you and your resources?

AB: As far as Dietitians For Professional Integrity, please visit our website (integritydietitians.org) and our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/DietitiansForProfessionalIntegrity), which is updated daily.

Although my blog — Small Bites, which I ran for five years — is no longer updated, I post my latest articles there (smallbites.andybellatti.com). I am also very active on Twitter (@andybellatti).

Thank you for your support, Julieanna. It’s been a pleasure answering your questions.

2016-11-29T15:11:23+00:00 November 13th, 2013|Featured, Interviews|