D. Milton Stokes, PhD, MPH, RD, FAND
HEALTH COMMUNICATOR & AGRICULTURAL ADVOCATE;
DIRECTOR, GLOBAL HEALTH &
NUTRITION OUTREACH: MONSANTO
for something nutrishus
I'm very pleased to share another "guy-ititian" interview with you, and a very credentialed one too! Oddly enough, I do similar work to Milton, but on a smaller scale and with more of a social media focus; however, my daughter thinks I 'send messages' as my line of work. He has had an incredible journey to lead to his current role. Seeing the M word above, you can likely imagine the tough job Milton has; below you'll find out how he got there.
Why did you become a RD?
I grew up in a family-owned restaurant. I enjoyed food and cooking. Dietetics was a natural progression.
What area of dietetics do you work in?
I work in agriculture communication.
How would you explain what you do?
I serve as a connection bringing dietitians and farmers together. In addition to dietitians, I work with nutritionists, foodservice professionals, chefs, and the academics who train them plus their professional societies. Melissa Joy Dobbins interviewed me for a podcast where we discuss my work in agriculture. You may find it useful.
What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?
Does email count? Oh, what about email? I also have email. Ha! My role is global, and a lot of my colleagues are working when I’m asleep. Thank goodness for email, but there’s a lot of it.
My days comprise some routines with meetings and reading reports, and of course email, but the reasons vary. While I am employed by Monsanto, I think of myself as working for food and nutrition professionals around the world. I answer their questions, share third-party resources with them, host educational webinars, attend and speak at conferences, and much more.
What has been your career path?
I describe my career as a bowl of spaghetti with a lot of twists and turns. I started out owning a restaurant with my mom in Kentucky and then became a clinical dietitian in New York City. I always say that when I reached the 6-month mark in clinical, I was bored. That’s when I started writing as a freelancer on nights and weekends. I’d pitch magazines and websites proposing content for them. Today’s Dietitian magazine gave me my first paid writing assignment, and then it all took off from there. It also helped that Men’s Health magazine had been interviewing me for articles. I decided to pitch my editor at Men’s Health, and he was game to work on something together. I wrote more than 100 articles and columns, and I wrote, co-wrote, and edited 7 books (including Launching Your Career in Nutrition and Dietetics: How to Thrive in the Classroom, the Internship, and Your First Job, 2nd Ed.). I’m now working on 3 book chapters for a communication text.
I also owned a private nutrition practice, and I had a tenure-track professorship and directed a dietetic internship. My students had seen a GMO labeling campaign and asked me questions about it. I answered their questions, but wondered if there was more to know. I called the company that in my mind was synonymous with GMO: Monsanto. That call resulted in a job.
What advanced education or special training do you have?
Growing up in the restaurant business with my entrepreneurial mother was quite an intense training program! She provided real-world exposure to the food business that I enjoyed comparing and contrasting with my formal undergraduate studies in dietetics and foodservice administration. After undergrad, I did a year-long dietetic internship and took the RD exam November 16, 2000. I got a masters in public health focusing on health education and then a PhD in communication and marketing, focusing on health communication.
In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?
We’re more aligned on what counts as evidence—not anecdote, and we stop using the word “link” because too many RDs and nearly all consumers think that means cause—and consumers are fortified against the hype and woo fear mongers generate.
What misinformation about RDs would you like to clear up?
We judge what you are eating. Actually, nearly none of us cares what you are eating unless you are a patient/client.
What would you like people to know about RDs?
We end up in unexpected places. Ten years ago, not many RDs were talking about agriculture. Now that there’s a bigger, global conversation around farming and where food comes from, plus the growing global population with projected shifts in dietary patterns, RDs are poised to be the perfect translators and connectors.
What are challenges you encounter as a RD?
In the hospital, the challenge was the culture of 'we recommend but we don’t decide.' Someone else was the decision maker. I never found that culture fulfilling, especially since I saw patients not getting what they needed while waiting for a physician to say “yes.”
What do people think that you do for a living?
It depends on the people. Those who don’t know what I do at Monsanto assume that I provide employee wellness services. I don’t do that. We have a wonderful wellness team/program and physicians and nurses who take care of employee health.
My kids think my work is just typing on a computer all day.
What are you passionate about in dietetics?
This word bothers me. Passion. It can cloud judgment, especially when working in misunderstood and controversial areas, like agriculture. I try to stay level headed. While I’m enthusiastic, I try to temper passion. Passion and bias get tied up together, too.
My job is simple: I give people something to think about. I don’t try to change minds or get people to love my employer. At the end of the day, I want dietitians and others in food and nutrition to respect farmers. Just like hospital dietitians don’t want doctors telling the dietitians what to do, I don’t think dietitians should dictate what farmers do. It seems those farthest from the farm are the ones loudest about telling farmers how to practice.
Visit as many farms as possible. Talk to all types of farmers: small to large in organic, conventional and biotech systems. While activist documentary films depend on the big villain, the ag industry works well together and cares about the environment. Farmers want their farms as safe and sustainable as you want those farms. Why? Because the farmers actually live there!
What is your favourite meal?
What tip(s) would you give to our readers?
Ask lots of questions. Ask people you think will never answer you, too. You might be surprised who’s willing to help. We are a profession that lifts its members. I owe so much to the dietitians who advised and counseled me along the way.
While you’re asking questions, ask for what you want. Whether important to your patient’s health or a tool to perform your job, if you need it, ask for it.
Anything else you’d like to add that you feel would be valuable:
A diversity of education helped me. I mixed dietetics with public health with communication and marketing. This blend opened a lot more doors for me than 3 degrees in nutrition/dietetics would have.
More about Milton:
LinkedIn: D. Milton Stokes