We had the good fortune of connecting with Ayten Salahi, MS and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ayten, how do you think about risk?
Deciding to uproot my career in 2016 to pivot in the direction of my true passion for nutrition was simple, but getting to where I am today has not always been an easy road.
As a first-generation daughter of Turkish-Cypriot immigrants and forced displacees of war, my family has worked diligently for each and every hard-fought opportunity we have earned in the United States. In order to pursue my dream of becoming an effective anti-hunger advocate and an adept nutrition practitioner, I worked for five years in industry-led medical research to save funds and build clinical acumen. With gracious scholarship support from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, I was able to complete my Masters in Food and Nutrition Policy and Programs with minimal financial burden. However, completing my Didactic Program in Dietetics, while affording the cost of living in Boston, required a different strategy.
Around 2018, I hit a period of financial hardship resulting from the high cost of education in the US. During this period, I relied on public benefits for both food and health coverage, and in fact became a beneficiary of the very same public programs for which I had so long been a staunch advocate. My drive to serve as an activist and advocate in support of anti-hunger programs, universal health coverage, and intersectional social justice grew even stronger, as my lived experience showed me just how critical affordability, accessibility, and equitable distribution of resources and services are to our quality of life. Having moved through this period, I knew that my approach as a nutrition professional would be different.
It is critical to me that medical services and resources – even premium programs – be accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic status. That is why I have chosen to pursue a career path that bridges personal and collective action. To promote personal healing in my new group nutrition coaching program, for every group I fill with paying clients, I offer a number of entirely pro-bono positions for SNAP beneficiaries and/or individuals deeply involved in organizing efforts for social justice movements, to ensure that my programs are accessible. To also promote collective action and civic engagement, I am building an online organizing platform that will showcase and advance the role of food and nutrition professionals in the fight against climate change.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
The Planetary Nutritionist is my nutrition coaching business, and through it I have developed an innovative virtual coaching experience for climate change-makers who are seeking to heal digestive discomfort while minimizing the environmental impacts of their food choices. Through my 12-week nutrition group coaching program, called the MindBodyBiome Program, I guide clients through a 12-week journey through their mental, physical, and spiritual relationship with food and the environment. Mentally, we work to develop mindfulness and intuition around food choices, in place of largely Eurocentric calorie-tracking and food rule setting. We disentangle weight from wellness and emphasize felt experience over preconceived Western health and beauty ideals. Physically, we follow a gentle digestive protocol that promotes gastrointestinal healing and provides a step-by-step process to identify possible food triggers for digestive discomfort. Spiritually, we explore our connection to self, others, and nature in a space of total non-judgment and curiosity. This program provides clients with the tools and experiences needed to advance both personal and collective healing.
Separately, the Planetary Health Collective (PHC) is a grassroots group and ongoing organizing team professionals and healers everywhere to channel their unique passions and skills to counter the climate crisis, with the intersectionality, urgency, and persistence needed to succeed. To drive these changes, we unite in the belief that human health is inextricable from stewardship of the natural systems upon which it relies, and we believe that food is the single strongest lever to optimize both. We also believe that an intersectional and community-driven approach that actively works to dismantle systems of racism, classism, and oppression is at the core of this work. By arming food and nutrition professionals with the knowledge, skills, community, and opportunities needed to enact climate justice through food, we plan to build an active coalition of experts who will turn our vision into reality through intersectional community organizing, equitable food policy advocacy, and ecologically-centered culinary and/or nutritional practice.
In each of these endeavors, I aim to empower individuals to participate in both personal and collective healing and to connect the dots to show that these are truly one in the same.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
This is my favorite question of all time! Venice is my favorite part of Los Angeles, hands down. We’d start the day with some brunch at Rose Cafe in Venice, grab some iced coffee, then wander along the strand. Sometime in the afternoon, we would pop by Venice Ale House for some fresh young coconut with sake in the sun on their outdoor patio on Venice Beach (so good, so refreshing), then continue meandering around on sand or check out some of the unique little shops around Abbott Kinney. For dinner, Gjelina is a must. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I dedicate this shoutout to my long-time mentor and inspiration, Dr. Francine Kaufman, who has taught me to push boundaries, think critically about the world around me, and never settle. And of course my parents, partner, and friends who have always supported my unconventional pursuits in life!
Food photography, recipe development, testing, and staging done by Ayten Salahi of Planetary Nutritionist