|Meet Sylvia Klinger. We had the pleasure of interviewing her about food history and culture. Read on and enjoy her recipe for Jicama Mango Salad.
As an expert in cross-cultural Hispanic nutrition and health issues, how have you found food to tell a story and shape culture?
In our Hispanic culture, food is the essence of our life. It is what keeps us together. We are obsessed with the flavors, colors, and textures of our cuisine. Although our typical Hispanic cuisine includes different preparation and cooking methods, and ingredients and flavors vary from county to country, we quickly adapt and love all of the variations.
How do you inform people about the intersection of food, history, health, and culture?
I love teaching families and health professionals in the community how to cook our favorite dishes. It helps me to share the history of our cuisine and demonstrate the nutritional value of the foods we love. I teach them how to incorporate our favorite foods in a way that combines flavors and nutrition in quantities (portion sizes) for our age, gender, and activity level.
What are some plant-based foods that are the foundations of Hispanic food traditions?
Plant-based foods are the foundation to our Latin foods, including all types of beans (for example, black, pinto, garbanzo, red, pigeon pea), vegetables (yuca, calabaza or pumpkin, zucchini, plantains, corn, tomatoes), fruits (tropical fruits, citrus fruits, passion fruit, coconut), grains (corn, amaranth, rice, tortillas), and nuts. It is my job as a dietitian-nutritionist to teach our communities about the amazing health benefits of our foods and the roles they play in the prevention of chronic disease. It’s easy, healthful, and delicious to season savory Latin foods with more onions, garlic, chiles, and fresh herbs instead of too much salt, and to flavor Latin desserts with more “canela” (cinnamon), vanilla, ginger, and citrus juices instead of adding too much sugar.
Do these foods or dishes have any significant meaning or history?
Absolutely! Many of our staple ingredients originated in Latin countries. Corn was first domesticated in Mexico by their native indigenous people hundreds of years ago, and chocolate’s history also began in Mexico, where the first cacao plants were found. No wonder many of the famous dishes in Mexico and neighboring countries have corn and chocolate!
What do you envision as the way forward to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables and, in the West especially, return to traditional Hispanic eating patterns?
My mission is to encourage my Hispanic communities to continue eating the foods they love since a lot of them are highly nutritious and to add the foods and nutrients they are lacking. For example, Mexicans love fruits and vegetables, and even their snacks consist of fresh fruits and veggies.
Please tell us a little bit about your work and career.
I am a dynamic global nutrition expert and a sought-after bilingual consultant, international speaker, communications professional, business owner, award-winning author, mentor, and board advisor for several associations and Fortune 500 companies. I am driven to empower communities toward better health outcomes through professional relationship building, health/nutrition program development, and strategic planning.
I have a relentless passion for understanding dietary behaviors, diet quality, and dietary patterns, as well as generating science-based evidence to develop timely strategies that promote a healthy lifestyle through dissemination of culturally relevant nutrition and health education programs for disease prevention and management. I draw my energy from my compassionate, family focus to help low-income communities establish healthy eating habits within their budget.
Please tell us a little bit about your books.
I’ve published two books on providing a tasty, healthy, culturally-appropriate lifestyle for Hispanic populations, who face mounting health problems today. The award-winning Hispanic Family Nutrition: Complete Counseling Tool Kit for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides optimal wellness and nutrition counseling tools, and The Little Book of Simple Eating is filled with practical tips in both English and Spanish for achieving everyday optimal health.
1 garlic clove, minced
Servings: 4 – 8 people