An international palate encourages life sciences graduate Gretel Tam to have a global impact.
With tiny plastic tomatoes dangling from Gretel Tam’s ears, she admits she is quite the hobbyist with an extensive collection of tomato-themed items; however, her love of food extends far beyond the humble tomato. Her passion for travel, along with having lived in Hong Kong, mainland China, and the United States, has immersed her in multiple cultures and given her the opportunity to try different flavors from around the world.
At 15, Tam arrived in the United States with her sisters. Having lived her childhood years in Asia, she recalls the move as nothing less than shocking. Her days of rigorous study in China were replaced with days learning English and struggling to adjust to living on a farm with her host family in rural America.
Tam reflects on her cultural heritage as she explores her curiosity about the impacts of dietetics. “Growing up in an Asian society, there are restrictive body ideals, and I didn’t allow myself to indulge in really good food,” Tam says. “Now, I love to learn experientially about food with no shame and no guilt. When I travel, I try to take in the lifestyle and eating habits of other cultures. There are reasons that certain groups of people eat the way they do and it's fascinating. Trying the food is essentially hands-on research that tastes good too.”
Being creative with food gets Tam excited. She likes to think about how throughout Chinese culture, people ate everything and did not waste food due to a history of not having enough. “When food is scarce, you don’t have the option to waste food,” she says. “Chinese food takes unique combinations of obscure ingredients in order to make something delicious.” Tam recognizes that food has cultural and political implications.
Understanding the nature of the food industry gives Tam motivation to continue learning in order to help people; something she will do as she starts a position at Latter-day Saint Charities. In her new role, Tam will focus on attaining food security and clean water globally with an emphasis in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. She is excited to see where the new role will take her and hopes to continue combining her passions for social impact, culture, and dietetics to help create change in real-world issues. She is grateful that her time studying dietetics at BYU has given her a foundation to not only dive deeply into understanding the human body and what it needs, but also to explore the wider reaching consequences and impacts of food. She considers it an incredible opportunity to “use [her] passions and gifts to better the world in whatever way [she] can.”