I'm too anxious and tired from overthinking how to do this to go to grad school.
March 26, 2012 8:44 PM   Subscribe

Precedents/ideas for molding agriculture, food/cooking, health, and psychology together into a meaningful, practical career?

To me, the whole cycle between how food is grown, prepared/cooked, how much and what exactly is eaten, and then how we feel (or vice versa--how we eat because of how we feel) is an integrated system.

I've realized that the American education system, however, seems to encourage students to focus on one of these paths, i.e. agriculture, cooking, nutrition/dietetics, and psychology, and become an expert in that one subject only. This doesn't appeal to me, as I tend to think in broad strokes and want to help people solve/heal problems and wounds from the ground up with a multidisciplinary, pragmatic perspective. I'm also very much of a jack of all trades and dislike jobs where I am constricted to doing one type of task.

That said, I envision myself in private practice working with people to address the issues I brought up in the beginning: how they feel and why, what they eat and how much/why, what they could eat/do to help them feel better, and how clinical therapy (as well as practical lessons on cooking and maybe even vegetable gardening) can also assist therapeutically and practically in this process. To me, it all makes sense and is interlinked.

It's almost like I'm shooting for part clinical psychology practice, part farm/self sufficiency school, part nutrition/health education, and part personal trainer, all influenced by the mind-body connection.

My background: BS in architecture with post-grad classes taken in chemistry (1 course), nutrition (2 semesters), biology (2 semesters), and currently veering into psychology territory with developmental psychology. I plan on continuing to take psychology classes to make up for my lack of them in undergrad. Also, I've spent the last five years vetting jobs in gardening, landscape architecture, winemaking, and professional cooking. I'm now the personal assistant to someone whose operation touches on all these issues, which has given me some clarity but not the sense of truly feeling confident in any one path. There are so many possible routes to doing this, and I've realized I'm getting anxious/deferring moving forward in any one direction because I'm afraid of missteps/wasting money.

One thing is for sure: I don't want to go to school for nutrition. I've always been interested in food and eating well, and I don't think you need to go to school to dissect vitamins and minerals (a la Michael Pollan's thoughts on nutritionism) versus knowing to eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and maybe some animal proteins and dairy products thrown in for good measure.

So now, the actual question. With this background information in mind, have you heard of any precedent places/therapists/practices that try to reconcile these topics holistically like this? I'm open to anything anywhere in the world. Or, in a similar vein, can you recommend any masters programs/routes that might closely align with where I'm headed so that I can be credentialed in something trustworthy?

Or do you think it savvy to take all my ideas and go for something with tangible, practical skills, like a master's in clinical mental health counseling. Or I've debated a master's in health psychology, which seems to touch on a lot of these issues, but I'd need a PhD to practice clinically and boy is that a long route. I do want to be taken seriously though and not seen as some new agey witchdoctor.

Thanks for any advice, even if I'm trying to stuff 10 pounds into a 5 pound bag! The prospect of this gives me tremendous excitement, it's just that now I want to get on with it!
posted by trampoliningisfun to Education (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It looks to me like you're at risk of becoming a 'jack of all trades, master of none'. I'd suggest you think carefully about which of agriculture, food/cooking, health, and psychology most interest you because, to my mind, agriculture and psychology are the two that are somewhat incompatible. I can see a future in agriculture, food/cooking and health or in food/cooking, health and psychology, but not all five at once.
posted by dg at 9:03 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Would you possibly consider going to school to study nutrition? Maybe? Because your interests (save for the agriculture, but even that could add a really interesting dimension) sound like they align perfectly with what my dietician does for me. I don't know if all dieticians do this, or if it's just the ones who work in eating disorder recovery, but she is every bit as much a therapist to me as my talk therapist is. She helps me work through a lot of psychological issues that manifest themselves in problems with food, as well as helping me through the nuts and bolts of how to shop/plan meals/etc. The advantage of becoming a registered dietician is that it will open many more doors to work than just reading about vitamins and calling it a day will: clinics that bill insurance will be able to hire you. You may be able to bill insurance in private practice. And, most importantly, as the client of a registered dietician, I'm reassured that she's up to date on the latest information concerning nutrition; it's a big deal to a population trying to heal food (and trust!) issues.

It's just a thought. Judging from your interests it sounds like you might really love the work and be great at it. (Not trying to dismiss your disinclination to go to school for nutrition!)
posted by corey flood at 9:24 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

At the risk of sounding hopelessly fifties, have you considered becoming a Home Economist? The career is a good one, and embraces every discipline in which you've expressed interest.

You could operate at the county level through the County Extension Services, under the auspices of each state's agricultural college system. You could become a Consumer Advocate, promoting healthy farm practices and "slow, local food." You could work for The Food Network or Consumer Reports, developing healthier eating programs, or doing food testing.

Your psychology background is good for communications; your architectural background is good for helping people establish a feeling of well-being in their homes and businesses. Your interest in agriculture and food in general is a direct line to me - all food should be considered from the ground up.

You could work for one of the major conglomerati - Dow, Monsanto, Midlands - they're always working hard at trying to present a human side of the machine. Just don't be evil...

I envision your set of skills and studies to be a perfect lead up to this career.

Before someone suggests that this is sexist, I invite them to investigate the role of Home Economists in prgressively leading women out of the household in the fifties and sixties and into the professional workplace. They were pioneers then, and it seems like the ultimate post-feminist occupation, both politically and spiritually.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:48 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

A Masters in Public Health sounds like it might fit the bill, possibly concentrating on Public Health Nutrition or something similar.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:50 AM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: To be practical, this is an issue of credentialing, straight up. The question is, what certification/degree do you need to be paid for what you want to do? What will it take to be believed as an expert both by the people you want to help, and the people who want you to pay to help those people (sometimes they're the same people, sometimes not).

Secondary questions are 1) what's the fastest way to get such a credential, 2) what's the cheapest way, and 3) which is the path I will hate least, ie, change me into someone I hate least?

Becoming a nutritionist is far cheaper and quicker than becoming a psychologist, for example. Becoming a life coach is even quicker, cheaper ... But most finders won't pay a life coach to do what you want to do.

It'd be great if people would just be won over by your charm and believe in your knowledge, but too often in life, they'd rather check off a credential check off box and hire an idiot.

Find out who "they" are and what their check off box is.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:54 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

and the people who want you to pay to help those people (sometimes they're the same people, sometimes not).

That should be "the people who want to pay you to help those people..."

My nutritionist just went through this same question-- but regarding a higher degree. She's already a nutritionist who is paid to see clients. An MPH is a terminal degree that would let you run programs or do research -- but it won't let you counsel clients. If you wanted to go the mental health counseling route, depending on your state, it could be faster to get a family therapy degree. That should resonate with your systems perspective anyway.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:03 AM on March 27, 2012

I know someone with a bit of farming experience who worked for Pacific Quest and enjoyed it - maybe working for some kind of Outward Bound-type program that focuses on farming and cooking might be of interest?
posted by brackish.line at 6:12 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm interested in that confluence of topics too (with the addition of food/social history and marketing). I decided I wanted to be in the food biz because it was something I could do with my idealism while still making some money. After working for Whole Foods in NoVA for five years, I ended up studying food marketing at Western Michigan, then working for Kellogg's and then in the produce biz until I became disabled. If I'd had the opportunity, I would have gone to NYU for some aspect of their food studies program, which melissasaurus mentions. It has several tracks - nutrition, food studies, and public health. Check it out and see if any of it fits your desires. And if you don't already know about FoodCorps, check them out too.

I think you can maintain your interests in all of those things, but you might have an easier time finding a place for yourself in the world if you develop knowledge in all of them but allow some of them to become your vocation and hold on to others as avocations that make you a resourceful and valuable hire. I eventually decided that marketing and data analysis/management were going to come to the fore to me, and that history, nutrition, and cooking were going to be the interests I cultivated connected to food when I wasn't working. (Reading Gastronomica and food histories, gardening, food blogging, keeping up to date on ingredient fashions, etc.)

Here's an example of how this worked for me: I was on a photo shoot when I was working for the California stone fruit marketing order, and someone asked where the dessert Peach Melba had originated. I was able to relate that. I'd previously helped with the ideation for the recipes we were shooting, because I was known to be a good cook and creative in the kitchen. Then later in the day, we needed biscuits made for a shot, and that was something I was able to do to help the stylist. None of those were job requirements to be a marketing manager, but because I was known to be multi-talented and a jill of all trades, I got to do a lot of different kinds of work.

I'd also say that in general, the smaller or more decentralized the organization you're in, the more different things you'll get to do. Whole Foods was fun for me because there's a lot of store-level control and I got to cultivate relationships with small producers. The stone fruit org was great because there were only about 20 people, three or so of us in marketing, and that meant the more we knew how to do, the more we got to do. On the other hand, Kellogg's was a miserable experience for me because all I got to do was be a tiny cog in an enormous machine and work on my minuscule piece of the pie.

So don't feel like you have to give up any of your interests - just figure out how you can occasionally wedge them into whatever takes the lead. Registered dietitian is what seems like the most obvious path to me here if you want to help people directly with the issues you list - in terms of just those issues, since you seem concerned with the length of time getting to where you want to go will take and with having a credential that will allow you to do that sort of work. I think it'd be easier to add psychology to dietetics than to add dietetics to psychology, but only you can answer whether doing that'd satisfy you. Since you're worried about missteps, I think this is the time to seek out people who have taken each of the discrete paths that are available, talk to them about their work, and see whether it matches up with your desires. If you don't know those sorts of people personally, contact those types of educational programs and ask to speak to recent and also to more-established graduates.

Best of luck to you.
posted by jocelmeow at 8:11 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to work for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, part of USDA. There are many programs that address what you’re interested in. Check out the Health and Wellness program and related funding opportunities for some ideas:

"Health encompasses a broad array of agricultural and human science issues including safety and environmental health, consumer health education, health literacy, and community planning. NIFA and land-grant universities work together to address health issues related to agriculture, community and economic vitality, and family and youth development by forming partnerships with others in the health community at the local, state, and federal levels."
posted by kinsey at 8:28 AM on March 27, 2012

I suggest taking an Anthropology class on Food/Farming or some such. Anthropologists are doing great work on food systems and medical anthropologists specifically are looking at broader health connections. I'm not sure exactly how you'd translate it into a job but it might be good for thought.
posted by blue_bicycle at 9:39 AM on March 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your thoughtful replies. I've been thinking about them for the last month, and in spite of my reluctance, I'm really thinking more seriously about going down the dietitian path (corey flood, I'm glad you pushed it!).

The program I'm looking into now is a Master of Science in Nutrition and Public Health, which also concurrently fulfills much of the Didactic Program in Dietetics coursework. Vitabellosi, you're absolutely right that this is an issue of credentialing, and I think this path will get me on the right track to being taken seriously. Jocelmeow, I also agree that it makes more sense to pursue the sciencey nutrition stuff first before the counseling, especially since I've been taking the bio/chemistry prerequisites. Your anecdotes were particularly relevant, too.

Thanks again for all the responses--here's to not becoming a jack of all trades, master of none!
posted by trampoliningisfun at 9:52 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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