Operating a Brooklyn-based practice rooted in an anti-bias patient-centered lens of cultural humility, Maya Feller MS,RD,CDN has been on a separate yet related quest to equip marginalized communities with resources to bridge the gaps of food inequality.

Food and nutrition inequities have historically plagued communities of color, especially folks across the African diaspora. In a new study from leading international food company Danone, approximately 4,000 U.S. adults across multicultural communities in America concluded that access to food is equally important as having decent healthcare, unemployment and climate change. Due to a variance of socio-economic and physical barriers, not all people have the ability to easily obtain healthy and nutritious food.

No matter what cultures inform your identity and who you are, there are some forms of traditional values placed around food. Whether it's utilizing shared recipes or communal gatherings, food is integral across all cultures. With this, access to food that both makes us feel good spiritually and nourishes our bodies is a necessity for a healthy society, but not everyone has the ability to consume this.

Feller took a moment to speak with EBONY at the 2023 Aspen Ideas Festival to talk about nutrition inequities, the findings within Danone's newly released study and how to demand more for yourself while bridging these gaps with cultural relevancy.

EBONY: Danone's recent study uncovers the state of inclusive nutrition as it pertains to different communities. What are other misconceptions that you feel folks may have that this study may illuminate more when it comes to topics of food insecurity?

Maya Feller: People care about nutrition. Black and brown people care about nutrition. Indigenous folks care about nutrition. This study illustrates that we've got this idea that people who don't have access don't care. That's not the case. This study lets us know that we have all this historical data that reinforces negative thoughts about historically marginalized groups and encourages us to rethink and reassess. People from Black, Brown and Indigenous communities care about nutrition just as much as their white counterparts, so what are the barriers to access. Marginalized groups have been trying to bring attention to this for so long. Some folks have to take three buses to get to a suitable supermarket. How many groceries can they actually get back home? There's more to the pie than just eating properly and this study addresses this.

So often, the impetus is put on marginalized communities—namely Black folks— to solve the circumstances that they were placed in instead of shifting pressure to those who profit off of their poor health. What actionable changes need to take place to alter these conditions and bridge the nutrition and food insecurity gap?

I really believe that we need the public and private sector to come together. My decision to work with Danone is based in the fact that they actually move with purpose here. This is person purpose driven work. It's the idea that when the most disenfranchised are good and well, then we actually can do better. I am a strong believer in removing moral hierarchy around food. I am a strong believer in actually making nourishing processed foods available in places where people have to travel far distances to get what they need. We need nourishing processed foods everywhere, especially when we're talking about shelf stability. There has to be a place in the food industry to be in that conversation and think about the formulation of products.

Those of us that are able to eat by mouth engage in eating (hopefully) three times a day if we're not experiencing food insecurity. I really want to see more spaces where there's a variety of accessible, affordable and nourishing nutrition options.

There are other elements that intersect with access and the ability to engage in proper nutrition as well. What are some things that folks can do to decolonize their understanding surrounding access to proper nutrition while demanding more from community leaders?

I definitely think that whenever possible, get involved. Our kids spend a lot of time at school; get on that school board or become a class parent. Get involved in whatever extent you can. If you've got two or three jobs, maybe you can band together with two or three other caregivers to have a unified voice. If you have more time on your hands and more emotional capital available, get involved on the local level and your community boards. If you're able to really talk to local elected officials, then you can really begin to reshape kind of the food landscape of where you are.

Here's the thing, we all want to eat delicious, nourishing food. That's a universal desire. Nobody wants to eat bad food. So when we come together as communities and say that we collectively want to have good options where we live and that are affordable, we can start to cultivate real change. It's so it's hard to give a perfect answer because I'm really aware that it's different for each person. We're all coming from different levels of health and nutrition literacy, but also different levels of understanding around our individual health while living in a space that is overwritten by the culture of salad. What I want people to know that while you should eat something that's nourishing and then replicate the behavior because it's good for you, but also eat because it tastes good. If it tastes good, and it's nourishing, you're more likely to return to whatever that dish is. If you add the layer of cultural relevancy on to it, then you're doubly more likely to go back and say, "Oh, this is something that I want to engage in." If there are no options, people can't make choices.