This week this Spotlight is on Diana K. Rice, registered dietitian and PR Associate with The Monday Campaigns, which runs the Meatless Monday initiative. Nutrition was a bit of a career change for Diana. She started out with a degree in journalism from NYU and worked in magazine publishing before deciding to pursue her RD credentials. Since she already had a degree, she did a didactic program in dietetics (DPD) online through the University of Northern Colorado then completed a distance internship through Cedar Crest College. After graduating, she knew clinical wasn’t the route for her, so when the opportunity at The Monday Campaigns came up, she pounced! Diana says it’s a perfect outlet to combine her nutrition expertise with her communication skills and enthusiasm for partnership development.

Diana, take us through a typical “day in the life.”

It changes all the time – I think the only constant is the fact that I work at the same desk every day! Often, I’m on the phone with new partners or developing presentations to explain the benefits of our initiatives Meatless Monday and its sister campaign, The Kids Cook Monday. Other times I’m writing articles, developing toolkits, or editing one of our free e-cookbooks. From time to time, I also do radio or on-camera interviews to promote our initiatives. I’m also the recipe editor for both campaigns, so I’m often in touch with bloggers to find new recipes to promote on our websites. And at home, I cook almost every night – often recipes that I’ll then use for one of our campaigns.
What first got you interested in the field of nutrition?

Like many avid cooks, I started thinking more and more about where my food comes from and what it was doing to my body. I wanted to specialize in nutrition writing, but being a journalist, I knew that you always have to consult an expert in order for your story to be credible. As we know, RDs are the nutrition experts, and I wanted to BE that person, not interview one! So that’s what got me headed back to school.

How did you break into the PR world?

I gained a lot of exposure to the ins and outs of PR when I was working in editorial. Then, during my nutrition studies, I volunteered with a small children’s nutrition education non-profit . They needed assistance with anything and everything, so I got to try my hand at a lot of new skills, including social media and PR. But technically, this is my first job in PR, so I would say that I’m still “breaking into” it every day as I learn more and more about the business from the seasoned PR professionals I work with!

Is your current position something you’ve always imagined yourself doing or far from it?

Yes and no. When I finished my dietetic internship I knew I still wanted to work in communications and I initially planned to do it on a freelance basis. But the opportunity to combine all of my skills in this position came along, so here I am! I didn’t really think a position like this existed for RDs, so it’s great to see that the landscape is changing.

Is there any food that you feel like you couldn’t live without?

Chocolate is high on the list, but I think I actually have to say nuts. I almost always have them for breakfast on toast, in muffins, or in a smoothie, and I always make sure to have a fruit and nut mix in my bag so I don’t have to rely on convenience foods when hunger strikes. They’re such a perfect, natural source of satiating protein, healthy fat and carbs – I’m so glad I’m not allergic!

What is the biggest challenge of being a dietitian in your field?

The type of role I’m working is really, really new, so dietitians aren’t specifically trained for things like writing, web editing and public relations. I was lucky that my internship was progressive and allowed me to create opportunities to build these skills. But many of the skills I rely on day-to-day I learned independent of my nutrition schooling, either through my journalism career or from working with the many talented public relations, marketing, and creative professionals on staff at The Monday Campaigns. But since the field is changing, I hope to see more dietetics programs adding opportunities in this realm for those who are interested.

What is your absolute favorite part of the day?

At work, it is so exciting whenever a new partnership opportunity comes about. I love brainstorming the various ways different partners can use and benefit from our initiatives. The possibilities are truly endless – we work with schools, hospitals, restaurants, other non-profits, chefs, RDs, apps, films, publications…you name it. But if we’re talking about an actual scheduled time of the day…well that would be cooking dinner and eating with my husband!

What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?

When my husband and I were still dating, we randomly stopped into an artisanal pizza restaurant on the Lower East Side one night for dinner. We ordered a pizza with apples, asparagus, gorgonzola and truffle oil, and it was so good that now we go back for the exact same meal every year on our anniversary!

I love that story! Do you have a current exercise or physical activity routine that you stick to or enjoy?

I run, bike and do yoga when possible, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a routine. Mainly, I walk – to the subway, to the grocery store, on a Monday Mile with my coworkers…I probably walk three or four miles every day just getting from point A to point B since I don’t have a car.

What are your thoughts on organic foods? Do you feel strongly one way or another?

I think it’s tricky. I purchase a lot of organic food myself, and though I do feel better about taking in fewer pesticides, I do it mainly for sustainability reasons. But if I’m encouraging someone to lower their reliance on fast and processed foods by cooking more fresh foods at home, I don’t even mention shopping for organic foods. Moving away from the Standard American Diet will benefit your health enormously whether the food is organic or not.

How about GMO’s?

Another tricky one! I would like to see GMO products labeled as such so that consumers can make fully informed decisions, but I haven’t seen enough evidence to be convinced that any particular GMO product is worse for our health than its natural counterpart. Again, I worry about it more from a sustainability perspective and what might happen if a genetically modified species starts to interact with the rest of the natural world. I think GMOs may have their advantages, but I would like to see them very well controlled.

If you weren’t a dietitian, what would you be?

An editor or a journalist – hopefully for some food or health-related publication!

What is your favorite place to go or thing to do in your city?

I live in New York City, but believe it or not, I don’t know too much about all of our amazing restaurants, beyond the ones who partner with Meatless Monday. Since I cook at home so much, I love any opportunity to explore a new place to buy ingredients. There’s the Union Square Greenmarket, Eataly, and any gourmet market or specialty store. I could stay in those places all day! I just discovered that the landmark spice market Kalustyan’s is down the street from my office…my lunch breaks get dangerous.

What would you like to accomplish (can be career or non-career related) in the next 5 years?

The founder of The Monday Campaigns has a vision to establish Monday as “the day all health breaks loose” just as Friday is pay day, Saturday is play day, etc. I am looking forward to helping him and the rest of my team establish that connection between Monday and health as common knowledge. We already have a body of research demonstrating that we all have health on our minds on Mondays – we’re more likely to search for healthy recipes, start exercise routines, make doctors appointments – it’s just a matter of getting the message out and encouraging more people and organizations to adopt our initiatives. And I am specifically dedicated to helping our campaign The Kids Cook Monday grow. Having worked as a children’s nutrition educator, it’s very special to me and I truly believe that introducing children to healthy foods and helping them develop an interest in cooking from a young age will contribute significantly to reversing our nation’s health problems.

What would you say to someone interested in becoming an RD or getting into the field of nutrition? Any advice or caution?

Take initiative and reach out to others in the field. It’s so amazing how many doors the phrase, “Hi, I’m a nutrition student” can open for you. Just cold call people or organizations you respect and tell them you’d be thrilled to have an opportunity to observe, volunteer or intern with them. Then, treat the opportunity like it’s a genuine job interview or work experience. Show up on time, put in hard work, send thank you notes. Hopefully you’ll build connections in the field, but just as importantly, it will help you to add experiences and skills specific to your unique interests to your resume that you may not get through your DPD or internship alone.

That’s really great advice. Thank you Diana for being part of the Dietitian Spotlight Series and showing us how versatile a career in nutrition can be! 

Watch and learn with Diana as she explains all of the amazing benefits you can experience by just cutting out meat one day a week: