Nutrition informs many discussions about food insecurity. At the forefront of these conversations in Canada stands Rosie Mensah, a Canadian-Ghanaian registered dietitian and food activist, who co-founded Dietitians for Food Justice as a response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustices of the last year. Growing up in Toronto’s Jane-Finch corridor, Rosie saw firsthand the effects of food insecurity on her own family and the community around her. “From a young age, I noticed quickly that we never had consistent access to food or the quality of food was not the best or not the most nutritious and it was always an issue,” she remembers. “I knew that I wanted to do something to help members of my community achieve good quality of life and better health. And I wanted to do that through food.”
Rosie’s determination led her to a career as a registered dietitian, first through a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics at Western University. “Growing up, I didn’t see myself represented in terms of health providers, as a Black woman, a woman of immigrant parents; someone who grew up in low-income, government housing,” she says. “And representation, especially when it comes to health care, is so vital, because we talk about things like cultural awareness, cultural responsiveness and just being able to see yourself and feel safety, especially when it comes to your health.”
She quickly realized that she wanted to push further into the way she approached dietetics: “I really thought it was this narrative where you just teach people how to eat healthy, because that’s what you’re taught to believe,” she says. “But being more critical and thinking about the social factors that prevent people from achieving good health or getting access to food was a reason why I ended up doing my Master’s of Public Health in Nutrition and Dietetics [at the University of Toronto], because I thought that’s where I could really dig deeper into that knowledge and to gain that understanding.”
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During the times where she wasn’t pursuing her studies, Rosie was also making the connections that would lead her towards her current social justice work. From being a part of the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council, she joined the Black Creek Community Farm, which led to a role as co-facilitator of Black Creek Food Justice Network — a Jane and Finch grassroots group advocating for local food justice in the community and beyond. Through these experiences, as well as through her work on the board of directors for FoodShare, she connected to dieticians with similar desires around food justice and advocacy. “Three of us came together last summer and decided we wanted to do something. We want to stop talking and we want to start taking action — that’s really how Dieticians for Food Justice came about. We wanted to take things into our own hands and really demonstrate that there’s many dieticians that recognize the structural factors that contribute to poor nutrition or lack of food — and we want to use our voice to speak up for those things,” says Rosie.
At the heart of Rosie’s ethos is the idea that representation and inclusivity are crucial elements in health practices — a concept she’s used as the foundation for an anti-oppression course she developed for health care providers called CEDAR: Culture, Equity, Diversity, and Race in Dietetics. “I went into dietetics with this determination to strive to really help the most marginalized people and yet I just never felt like those perspectives were ever being discussed — and if they were, they were being stigmatized,” she says. “My goal as a nutritionist and dietician is to empower people to enjoy good food, diversity and different cultures, but also focus on nourishing themselves and that can look different based on your need. And I also believe health includes nourishing your community and your environment around you.”
Photo of Rosie Mensah courtesy of Rosie Mensah; photo of FoodShare’s Good Food Box courtesy of FoodShare