Home Culture Vanessa Risetto on Bringing Cultural Competence to Nutrition + Wellness

Vanessa Risetto on Bringing Cultural Competence to Nutrition + Wellness

by Jordan and Joelle Hernandez
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During Black History Month, we are shining a light on members of our community who are paving the way for others in their industry. Despite being one of the things that brings cultures and communities together most, the food industry — particularly the nutrition space — has historically been one of the least diverse. Local Registered Dietician and co-owner of Culina Health, Vanessa Risetto, is making waves in the industry and incorporating her heritage while doing so. We had a chance to connect with Vanessa to learn more about how she got started in the industry, the changes she has seen throughout her career, where she hopes to see the industry headed, and some of her favorite local spots. Read on to learn more about Vanessa and Culina Health.

vanessa risetto rd

(Photo credit: Lauren Anzevino)

Getting Started

Vanessa credits the start of her career to her lack of knowledge of how food works in our bodies and its impact on our weight. “I had gained a lot of weight in college, because I had no knowledge about food at all. After college, I lost weight pretty easily but didn’t understand how or why, so I went to a registered dietitian who was able to help me in a pragmatic, non-judgmental way,” she shared. She went on to say, “I wanted to do the same for others.”

vanessa risetto

(Photo credit: Lauren Anzevino)

After earning a master’s degree in marketing from New York University, Vanessa went on to study dietetics and completed her Dietetics Internship at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she then worked for five years. She is currently certified in adult weight management (levels I + II) and, in addition to general nutrition, she focuses on various GI disorders, bariatric surgery, weight management, PCOS, and family nutrition. Her educational success, however, was not without difficulties as she broke into a space virtually untouched by diversity.

Read More: Suffragist, Activist, Journalist: The Incredible Life of Jersey City’s Own Ella Barksdale Brown

Cultural Competence

According to a recent study done by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, about 94% of registered dieticians are white women. This lack of diversity, Vanessa shares, often makes this a less attractive field for people of color. “If you don’t see people that look like you in this field it doesn’t make it very attractive to enter. There are a lot of barriers that need to be broken down,” she shared.

Cultural competence is a term that has entered the world of nutrition and medicine/healthcare in the past decade. It speaks to understanding the lifestyle of the person being treated and understanding beliefs, traditions, etc. of cultures different from your own. With food being inherently linked to geographic regions, cultures, and socio-economic status, Vanessa agrees that it’s important for RDs, like herself, to be able to relate to their patients.

vanessa risetto hoboken

(Photo credit: Jennifer Nilsen Photography)

“Your lens is not the only lens from which people view things, so making an effort to understand the culture of others is paramount. It also goes beyond ethnicities. Socioeconomic status also plays a large role,” she said. She continued by saying, “If you think you have to eat only organic foods in order to achieve your goals and that’s cost prohibitive for you, then you feel the task is too large and you don’t do it.”

As an RD with a different cultural background than many of her counterparts, this is something that Vanessa and her team at Culina Health take very seriously. “At Culina, we train our RDs on a session-by-session basis on how to deliver care that is relevant to the person they are speaking with, we think it’s one of the things that makes us special. Meeting people where they are in a non-judgmental way is how everyone wins.”

Culina Health

Vanessa is the co-founder of Culina Health, which is a personalized, virtual service for nutrition needs. In an effort to make this service approachable and accessible for all, Culina Health accepts most major insurance plans and works with each person to understand their goals and food preferences.

culina gem

“We deliver personalized nutrition education. You don’t have to eat eggs if you don’t like it. Hate kale? No problem, so do we (jk, but also not jk). You don’t cook and you aren’t going to? I helped someone lose 100 lbs eating out every meal. You only have $50.00 a week for food? No problem! We make it all work and we take insurance so most people can access this,” she shared. Culina Health’s work has been featured in numerous publications including Essence, Byrdie, Refinery 29, and many more with Vanessa making regular appearances on the TODAY Show lending her expertise.

See More: Meet The North Jersey Native Behind Bracelet Brand Little Words Project

Supporting Local

vanessa risetto dietician

(Photo credit: Jennifer Nilsen Photography)

Vanessa resides in Hoboken with her husband, two children, and Goldendoodle. She is a regular at many staples around town and especially loves the family feel of the small businesses. When asked what some of her favorite businesses around town are she started with The Hive. “Those ladies and their staff are in the business of making people feel good and I’m here for it,” she shared. Of course, being the RD she is, she has multiple, favorite health-focused businesses in the area. “Cross County Cardiology —my new favorite MDs in Hoboken! The Pumills are amazing. Everyone, go there for your cardiology needs. Tired of physicians that talk at you? Never fear — this father/son duo are the literal best,” she said. To get a good sweat in, Vanessa likes to visit Mess Method and Fit Foundry. She raved about both and credited their community feel and overall kindness as reasons why she loves going there.

Pioneers like Vanessa are breaking barriers in some of the least diverse spaces in our country and local community. Vanessa and her team have built a strong platform that has helped hundreds of people gain a happier and healthier relationship with food and themselves. To learn more about Vanessa and Culina Health, click here.

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