May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! We celebrate Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
The Pacific Islands include:
– Melanesia – New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands
– Micronesia – Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands Kiribati, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia
– Polynesia – New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island
This month we spotlight Wendy Ng, RD, LDN, SNA, CCNP (she/her/hers). Wendy is a first generation quad-lingual Asian-American, who grew up about 15 minutes outside of Boston. She attended public school and spent most of her weekends and summers of her childhood in Chinese School. She graduated from UMass Amherst in 2017 in Public Health and Nutrition, and was involved on and off campus with a variety of nutrition-based internships, Greek life, and Residential Life. Fun fact: Wendy served as an RA in a 22-floor tower for 3 years! She recalls a fond memory: one evening after attending a nutrition awards ceremony as an award recipient, she headed out a bit early, walked over to the end of year Residential Life banquet and was surprised with the RA of the Year award! Right after undergrad, she completed the dietetic internship at Simmons University. She has been a practicing RD for about 4 years.
Growing up, everyone wanted to be a teacher, a firefighter, a doctor… Wendy wanted to be a free taxi driver. As a kid, she spent her weekends taking the train with her parents to Chinatown to buy groceries. She noticed that a lot of the people buying groceries were the elders as most parents were in the restaurant industry and had no time. Her feelings of sympathy extended to them as they didn’t have cars and would have the heavy burden of carrying them. Hence, a dream of being a taxi driver who drives for free to take away some of that burden for them. During Wendy’s time at the YMCA, her team used a mobile food truck to bring groceries and meals for kids to families who had no means of transportation or had to care for their kids living in housing development areas… so she lived out her dream of being a taxi driver after all, at least for a little bit!
Professional photo of Wendy Ng. From top to bottom: A Chinese New Year spread; a giant pot of tang yuan soup; bamboo leaf wrapped food for the dragon boat festival.
- What’s your RDN career been like so far? What’s your current role/description?
The exact opposite of what I imagined after finishing my dietetic internship! Hah. I created my own position at a local YMCA— Community Health and Nutrition Coordinator. I managed and supervised the CACFP (Child Nutrition and Adult Care Food Program in 7 sites and the SFSP (Summer Food Service Program) in 30 sites, including a mobile food truck that served meals at the parks. This was all in 3 different cities. I also managed the weekly weekend grocery program that serviced over 150 families and 4 food pantries in the 3 cities as well. After that I moved on to being a Nutrition Manager for a Head Start program, mostly managing kitchen operations, menu planning, and did some nutrition education.
I am currently the Food and Nutrition Services Director at the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District. We have 5 schools; 3 elementary, 1 middle, 1 high school and a total of about 15 staff. Every day is different. Some days I will be in the kitchen cooking or working on the line because of staff shortages. Other days, I will be menu planning, recipe building and figuring out what new items I can try with the students based on their feedback and engaging with them in the café. Lately, I’ve been doing plenty of cost analysis, budgeting, and forecasting since universal free school meals are ending this year. In addition, I also have a part time job as the Food and Nutrition Specialist back at the local YMCA, making menus and providing training for their staff.
- How does your diverse background and lived experience impact your present-day life?
Almost every day! Being a female and a POC— I experience imposter syndrome every day. I am hyper aware of who I am surrounded by and how much I can or can’t speak up because of my background and identity.
- Tell us something unique about your heritage and what it means to you.
Even though we follow the American calendar every day, we also follow the Chinese lunar calendar. For every Chinese holiday, there are always specific foods that are prepared. For the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节), we make zongzi which are filled with glutinous rice, salty egg yolk, fresh meat, peanuts all wrapped in giant bamboo leaves that are then steamed for hours. For the Lantern Festival (元宵节), we make tang yuan soup which are glutinous rice balls filled with sweet or savory fillings and they symbolize family togetherness. The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), we serve a pastry called mooncakes! They are round shaped that symbolizes completeness and reunion. They come with sweet and savory fillings as well, but the traditional ones are usually a lotus paste with a salty egg in the middle, which symbolizes the full moon.
- Is there a cultural tradition that you love or that you were brought up with?
My favorite cultural tradition would be everything that has to do with Chinese New Year. I think the biggest love language in the Asian community is food and preparing food for others. For Chinese New Year, hours are spent on preparing various dishes because each symbolizes something important. From water chestnut soup for unity, a whole chicken for completeness, fresh fruit- especially tangerines and pomelos for new beginnings/luck/abundance, turnip cake for good omen, or a mixed veggie dish for harmony. My favorite is 年糕, which are sticky rice cakes but also translates to “increasing prosperity yearly” and my grandma’s arrowhead (慈菇) vegetable dish for benevolence!
- What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I told myself after I finished my dietetic internship, I am never going into Food Service. It just isn’t for me…. Look at me now—the Food and Nutrition Director of a Regional School District!