Texas Dietitian Debbie King Challenges a Stubborn Reputation

by Karen Leibowitz

In the land of pickup trucks, sunny skies, and red meat diets lives vegetarian cook, educator, and advocate Debbie King, R.D. Over the years, this Texan has seen the perception of vegetarian diets in her area change for the better.

Debbie and her family have been vegetarians since she was 10 years old. Her parents wanted to raise the family vegetarian for religious reasons, and out of her four siblings, Debbie was the least willing. As she grew into her teen years, she was mostly vegetarian, but when eating out with her non-vegetarian friends, she experimented with meat every now and then to see if she liked it. Her choice to stay vegetarian was influenced by her distaste for the texture of meat, and more importantly her desire to be as healthy as possible. As a result of her involvement with Pacific Union College's home economics department and taking her first food science class at Loma Linda University, her "passion for nutrition was ignited," as she began her journey to become a registered dietitian.

Moving to Texas from Nevada during her teen years as a vegetarian was a challenge. There were very few options for her family; even the vegetable side dishes were made with chicken broth or seasoned with bacon. Even now, Texas seems to hold a reputation for a lack of vegetarianism. Recently, her family took a trip to Alaska and while ordering lunch, a family from Canada sitting with them said, "We thought there were no vegetarians in Texas," to which her youngest daughter replied, "It's just the four of us."

Since moving to Texas, Debbie has promoted vegetarian/vegan diets in several ways, and has noticed interest in vegetarianism growing. She volunteers to host a booth promoting vegetarian resources at the annual meeting of Texas dietitians. This booth is sponsored by the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. She also lectures about vegetarian diets to dietitians at long-term care facilities, helped establish a website for the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group to provide evidence-based nutritional information, and teaches community cooking classes. During her cooking classes she takes the time to explain the nutritional benefits of plant-based diets and helps clarify misconceptions about topics like protein.

Because of her work, a local Texas hospital now offers a meatless entrée at each meal. When running into former cooking-class attendees in stores and restaurants, she notices that they are choosing vegetarian/vegan options. She also trains hospital chefs on how to make veggie meals.

Debbie encourages anyone pursuing a vegetarian-focused dietetics career to have hope because there are not nearly as many challenges now to promoting plant-based diets as there were in the past. She says, "The number of plant-based foods from all sectors of the food industry continues to grow with the consumers' growing interest in meatless meals."

Karen Leibowitz wrote this article while interning with The Vegetarian Resource Group. She is studying dietetics at James Madison University.