Humans of INKspire

Gurneet Dhami | MSc Nutrition Candidate, Social Innovator & Food Justice Advocate

For those who are not familiar with you, what is your story?

I am a Punjabi-Sikh woman born and raised in Toronto. Growing up in a very diverse community and having that connection to culture, food was always there. At an early age, I knew that I wanted to go places and that I liked food and community stuff. I think those are the main pillars that really got me going where I am today. I went to Ryerson University and that’s where I did my undergrad in nutrition. At that time, downtown was a cool new adventure, but I always knew there was more out there. So I pursued further education and chose to do my Masters out east at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. For the last three years I’ve been enjoying the adventure as a researcher, as someone seeing a different part of Canada, and the adventure of self discovery. You don’t know who you are until you take yourself out of your norm. I feel extremely privileged to be able to do that. That’s where my story starts, and it’s only the beginning educationally.

How did you become interested in your chosen field of research? And what type of impact do you hope your research will have in the future?

I feel like I always knew I wanted to do nutrition, but not in the formal way. It always had to relate back to culture and back to the community. I got involved in promoting diversity and understanding how we can be more inclusive with our diets early on which led me to my various volunteer experiences. When I think specifically about my research, which looks at the experiences of racialized dietitians, I’m also a part of my research in a way as a researcher becoming a racialized dietitian. So in a way, the stories I didn’t get to hear are the stories I want others to hear. It’s really taking on talking about heavy topics that haven’t been talked about in Canadian dietetics, which involves racism and that reflexive part of being racialized. It’s really heavy. I personally felt that it’s heavy, but I do know that it is much needed. For myself, the timing was right. I got into it a few years ago and it’s been something that people initially didn’t want to hear about that much or felt uncomfortable talking about racism in dietetics (and still do). There is a discomfort but there is also a readiness to learn because it is going to have a huge impact on the profession — looking forward to how we support diverse cultures and cuisines and really understand that racism is a systemic issue and the dietetics and nutrition field isn’t exempt from them. So I think it’s bringing a lot more to light and hopefully others will take on what I primarily get done. I can’t do it all in one Master’s thesis, but I hope it starts a conversation and others can take this on as well.

What are some of the biggest things you have taken away from your journey?

I would say it’s really important to understand your relationship with the land, and for myself being a settler, there’s a lot of privileges I have and a lot of things I didn’t learn initially about Indigenous People in Canada. So for me, how do I reconcile and what is my duty? I believe it goes back to reclaiming my cultural identity; you really can’t do what you need to do without knowing where you are and who you are. So I would say those two things have been the biggest takeaways. You don’t always know what you want to do, but going out and testing it has been something I’ve always gone for. I always say I’m always in rough draft mode. Sometimes that’s great, sometimes that gets me in trouble, sometimes I’m like, “why do I even choose to do this?”. But putting yourself out there can help you start something that you didn’t know that you wanted, or something you did want. Maybe it’s something little, maybe it’s something big. That’s the only way you can develop your self confidence. That’s always something that’s created the journey I’m on and something I learned to do more and more every day.

What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?

My Master’s has been going on for three years. Five years is the max for being in my program, so I’m reaching that point. I see myself finally graduating from my Master’s with a completed thesis that will hopefully bring about change. It’s been a really supportive and adventurous run, but it’s time to go into what we tend to make of the profession in other ways. I see myself becoming a dietitian, and it’s uncertain where to practice considering COVID-19 and everything else going on. But I’ve always wanted to do something in public health and related to culture and food. So maybe it’s time to figure out how to make a career in whatever you really want and what you can do. I also have a lot of potential articles to publish. That’s the joy and headache of being a researcher: a lot of things to get to, but definitely a lot of good things to get to. Sometimes we feel like we’re getting old, and not to put yourself down, but we’re learning more and we’re doing more. You can always be young at heart. I always remind myself that your age doesn’t define you, it’s what you want to do with it. I see myself having fun and taking care of myself more, maybe more than I did in the past five years. That’s something that’s really important. You do need to do it in order to get to where you want to go.

How do you stay resilient in these uncertain times? How are you adapting to this new norm?

That’s been quite a journey. I would say initially trying to grapple with language: people have been saying this is the new normal and talking about resiliency. There is a lot to unpack there about getting used to something and the need to adapt versus how to adapt. If I think of myself, I do recognize that I have privileges and things of that nature that shield me from the harsher things that COVID-19 has revealed related to social inequities. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not hard. It’s still hard for everyone, but maybe to a lesser extent. It’s not about getting with the program, but making your new program in a way. You can really put yourself in negative talk and that’s where social supports are really important. I think for myself, I’ve been reaching out to more people that I haven’t seen or talked to in a long while just because I’ve always been traveling. There’s that opportunity to sit down and get to know individuals and have those chats. It’s been okay to say that everyday is different, and respecting everyone else’s space more so now than ever because we don’t know what people are going through. So I think in that way, I know what I can do, and if I can help someone, that’s great, and if I can’t, it’s about knowing how to support them or just taking a step back.

It’s also about working on yourself. I know computer life has been the be all but not the end all. It’s about trying to understand how to unplug. We need to know what’s happening in the world, but at the same time, you don’t need to literally sleep with your laptop, as my family would say. I think it’s been about trying to keep a healthy distance with electronic devices. As funny as that sounds, I think it’s very true. I feel like we’re in the world of robots, which can be helpful or detrimental, but it depends on what we do. Self care has been much needed because you don’t know how much you are pushing yourself when you have to do your day-to-day work. Giving yourself time to sit with yourself and think about yourself is really important. That’s been something that I’ve been getting more used to. When I think back, that’s what I used to do as a young kid. I kind of lost that in between, but now it’s about going back to those things that bring joy, and making new joy, whatever that is.

What is your advice to youth who have not found their passion yet?

I feel like we all have something that we want to do. Maybe we don’t necessarily know the terminology sometimes. Even if I do all this diversity stuff today, I didn’t know a lot of terminology. I didn’t know how to look for what I’m looking for and do what I’m doing fully. I think that comes from thinking about yourself. Sometimes we don’t think about ourselves this way because we think it’s selfish. You need to take an introspective view of who you are and what you desire to do. It’s important to see and hear from people around you that are closest and dearest. There’s critiques that come but we need to hear those critiques about what we’re good at and what we’re not good at. If we don’t hear what we’re not good at, we can’t get good at those things. Maybe you really want to do something, but you don’t have the skills for it. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It’s just about working at it and having that perspective. I would say really know what your skills are, what your assets are, and know what your weaknesses or challenges and the insecurities you face. When you know that, you can work around that and build from that. Think about where to start. Maybe it’s just a conversation with friends and family. Maybe it’s someone that kind of knows you, because you see yourself as you do in the mirror, but there’s also mirrors around you, which are reflected through the people you surround yourself with. That can always change. I think sometimes we don’t know how much power we have as youth to change the future. We are the future, so I feel like that’s empowering in itself. But again, it’s about trying to know what we are going to do in the future and what we want to bring. People are passionate about so many different things. Hobbies can turn into more than a passion, more than a project. Sometimes it’s the things we do on the side that we don’t give attention to. Really think about those other little things that make you who you are and always strive to see where you want to go and how to get there. We all need support in one way or another, and it’s knowing what we need and what is necessary to get there.