I’m not a foodie, but I do love good food. Growing up, the smells from the kitchens or grills of the women and men in my family made my tummy jump and face smile. Those smells were usually a signal to me that I could take a break from sports and games with my brothers and cousins and eat something delicious. You need fuel after foot races, firecrackers and go carts. Personally, I didn’t care to learn much about how the food was made until my late teens.
Photo courtesy Sadé Meeks.
Sadé Meeks, however, took to her mother’s tutelage at a young age. Her enthusiasm (and skill) for baking sweet treats led her to finish culinary school in Mississippi and complete a nutritional sciences graduate program in California. She is a registered dietitian, but her experiences as a graduate student living in Los Angeles influenced her journey to becoming an activist in the food justice space. In 2019, she launched G.R.I.T.S. (Growing Resilience in the South) in the hopes of “reconnecting to food and cultural foodways” to bring “a heightened awareness to [making] healthy and sustainable food choices.”
I sat down with Meeks one evening to talk community, wellness and the power of a good meal.
BG: Writing a book is an ambitious feat, but as a full-time graduate student, you decided to take it on. What led you to write the One Pantry Meals Cookbook?
SM: I was living in L.A. balancing school and multiple part-time jobs, struggling with money and food insecurity like so many college students across the country. I was shopping at the 99 Cents Only Stores which helped me save money on food, but my culinary background also allowed me to make better food choices and put a variety of foods together that provided better nutrition. That’s why food literacy is so important. Food literacy gives people the ability to navigate and make informed decisions on a daily basis about the foods they eat and have access to. I wanted to both share my experience and teach others how to make good meals with what they have.
BG: As a registered dietitian, clients come to you for help with their diet and nutrition needs. How did your work inform your decision to found GRITS?
SM: I saw a need, particularly in the south, to educate and inform people in under-resourced communities about food. So many of the chronic diseases people suffer from can be corrected or improved with nutritious food, but I also want to be a bridge and connect people back to the land and their ancestral foods. Initially, I had a broad vision for the organization, but over time, as I continued to grow as a practitioner in dietetics, my desire to offer more increased. That’s why I’m so excited about releasing the Resilience Box. Nutrition counseling can cost anywhere from $100 – $200 per hour. Each purchase of a resilience box provides free nutrition counseling by a registered dietitian to those in need.
BG: You’ve had the opportunity to work in a few different capacities with multiple organizations. What was something that stuck out to you about this community of practitioners?
SM: Most food and nutrition information is marketed by and for white people. Only 2.6% of registered dietitians are Black. So, there is clearly a need to greatly improve this percentage, but there is also a pressing need to educate white dietitians on communities of color and the cultural relevance and significance of the food eaten in those communities. This is an easier task when more people of color are represented in the field. It’s less about swapping foods out and more about preparing familiar foods in different ways that keep them healthy and connected to community.
Sadé Meeks is a registered dietitian with Rutherford County in Tennessee and founder of the nonprofit G.R.I.T.S.
This story has been edited for length and clarity.