For Men’s Health Month, we catch up with Milton Stokes, PhD, MPH, RD, and VP of Scientific Affairs at Sensei Ag to get his perspective on men’s health and health in today’s world.
“Recognizing and preventing men’s health problems is not just a man’s issue. Because of its impact on wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, men’s health is truly a family issue.”
– Congressman Bill Richardson
June is Men’s Health Month. It’s a month that aims to bring more awareness to men’s health issues and encourage men, boys, and their families to seek advice for early disease detection and prevention.
Promoting better health is one of the reasons why Sensei Farms was founded. We have a unique perspective that produce should not only be delicious, but also, always highly nutritious. Which is why we employ a team of health experts and dietitians whose jobs are dedicated to maximizing the nutrition in our products.
Dr. Milton Stokes, one of our health experts and VP of Scientific Affairs, recently joined our team. He has a wealth of knowledge in health and dietetics and even wrote a New York Times Best Seller. He has quite the credentials, so I was “stoked” that he agreed to an interview where he shares his thoughts on men’s health.
Milton, we’re so excited to have you on the Sensei Ag Team! Can you tell us about yourself and what you were doing prior to joining Sensei Ag?
Thanks! I’m thrilled to join a company focused on transforming health. I’m a dietitian, so Sensei Ag’s mission is important to me. Nearly no one in the US eats enough fruits and vegetables. In fact, it’s been called a consumption crisis. I want to help change that.
I’ve worked in agriculture for the last 7 years, and I’ve always been a food and nutrition person. I started out owning a restaurant in Kentucky with my mom. Then I studied dietetics and became a dietitian working in hospitals and nursing homes in New York City providing nutrition care and leading clinical nutrition teams. I also wrote as a freelancer for magazines, newspapers, and web sites, and I had a few book projects—all focusing on food, nutrition, and dietetics in one way or the other. Writing felt like a better way to reach more people to talk about the healthfulness and joy of good food.
In terms of education, I got a masters in public health and did my PhD in communication and marketing where I focused on health communication. For my dissertation I examined the body image of Hispanic females in the context of how much media they were consuming as well as the type of media.
After the PhD, the next natural step felt like it should be teaching, and I had a tenure-track professorship—still focused on food, nutrition, and health communication. In 2013 my students were asking questions about food labeling that led me to do some additional exploration about the topic. I started asking questions to colleagues in the Ag industry, and those conversations opened the door to me working in Ag. While I loved higher education, it felt like the right time to explore food production and agriculture more deeply.
In my work, I saw myself as this connector, someone to bring the nutrition and food community together with agriculturalists. A lot of consumers were interested in how food was produced—or as I like to say, “How does food happen?”—but the people talking about food production weren’t from agriculture; they hadn’t been on farms or talked to farmers or ranchers, and a lot of their information about agriculture was coming from documentaries, which to me, were more like shockumentaries.
I created opportunities to bring these stakeholders together so they could learn from each other and then share that knowledge with societal audiences. What a transformative experience for me!
That is quite a journey! You clearly stay busy. What is a project you’ve enjoyed working on?
One of my favorite projects has been the ongoing work that I’ve done with dietitians, physicians and food professionals in the Philippines. I have attended their annual conferences for a number of years where I was an invited speaker, exhibitor, and organizer of workshops and immersive experiences where I took stakeholders to explore agriculture. We visited a vegetable seed company as well as a row crop farmer. It was very interesting to hear from the growers and plant scientists about the challenges and opportunities in the Philippines. I’ve made some wonderful friendships and see some of my colleagues from the Philippines at nutrition conferences around the world.
What a great example of how health and nutrition is universal. So June is Men’s Health Month. What is “health” in today’s modern world and what does a “healthy lifestyle” look like?
Health is balance, wellbeing, joy, adequate sleep, and good food. Not everyone has attained this or keeps it consistently. There are bumps in the road and barriers. Achieving health takes a lot of resources, and progress can be easily derailed. I work on health every day and see it as a process.
What are a few health areas that men often overlook or should focus more on?
Men don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. The numbers are just so low. I’ve looked at why this is, and other organizations are also focused on this. Despite all that’s been done to communicate the healthfulness of fruits and vegetables, men—and women, too—consume very low quantities. I don’t think we have a knowledge deficit: most people know fruits and vegetables are good for them. But what about taste? I think one barrier is coming from produce that doesn’t perform consistently, and if you think about packaged food or food from quick service restaurants, it’s almost always consistent. Eaters know what they’re going to get when they purchase a meal from one of these restaurants or buy packaged snack foods. What about fresh fruits or vegetables? As a parent, my kids are so disappointed when I cut open a melon that’s hard and bland.
Think of the possibilities if we could produce consistently crave-able fruits and vegetables? This is what makes working at Sensei Ag so exciting! We care about flavor… that experience when you enjoy the perfect tomato, for example. That’s who we are and what we want to bring to more people.
Agreed, that is the Sensei dream. Speaking of your kids, do you have any favorite hacks that help you and/or your family achieve better health?
Plan ahead. Map out your meals so you aren’t stuck last minute trying to figure out what’s for dinner. Planning can help avoid family frustration and fight food waste. And I’m a big fan of convenience foods. I always told my patients when I worked in healthcare that canned and frozen fruits and vegetables were great choices to have on hand. Yes, I love fresh, but frozen mango or frozen blueberries are always ready when I am, and always nutritious. If you can save time and still eat well, go for convenience items.
I really appreciate that response from a dietitian! This has been awesome, thanks Milton. If there is only one thing you’d like our readers to take away or remember, what would that be?
The perfect diet is the one that offers a balance of good-for-you nutrition and deliciousness. Enjoy the food you eat.