Neonatal Dietitian Alumna Continues Learning Around the World

Tarynne Mingione holding infant in Sierra Leone.

Tarynne Mingione has traveled to beachside Thai kitchens, emergency health clinics in Sierra Leone and a surprisingly tasty gas-station buffet in Switzerland ­— all in pursuit of a deeper understanding of what nourishment really means. 

Those trips inform her work serving infants as a neonatal dietitian at Swedish Hospital Medical Center, one of the largest hospital networks in the Pacific Northwest. She earned a Bachelor of Science with a major in Nutrition/Didactic Program in Dietetics from Bastyr University in 2008 and told us recently how her studies fueled her desire to travel.

What is your work like these days?

I work at Swedish Hospital as a dietitian in the neonatal intensive care, infant special care and pediatric units, and the nutrition care outpatient clinic. During the summer I work with the American Diabetes Association at Camp Sealth, helping campers plan their meals and measure blood glucose levels. Later this year I'll work as a nutrition educator at Microsoft, guiding employees and their families to develop personal health plans.

On a deeper level, I want to achieve a better understanding of nourishment: What do we need not only to sustain health, but also to completely thrive? I realized I needed to nourish my own curiosity about how wellness connects to land, people, culture and food. This has led me to travel to more than a dozen countries.

My first escapade was to Europe and North Africa in 2010. I spent hours at a Vegas-style buffet (but with incredible food) at a gas station in Switzerland. I enjoyed authentic mint tea in a Berber home in Ourika Valley in Morocco. I realized why the Tour de France is held in a carb-loving country.

The cultures were extremely different, but they were all linked by one obvious similarity: an awareness of nourishment. In many countries, people would close their shop or leave work to enjoy a homemade lunch with friends and family, and then relax before returning to work. It's a different sense of time.

Five months later, I traveled to the small coastal town of Lungi, Sierra Leone, with Lighthouse Medical Missions. We transformed a small church into an acute medical clinic and cared for elders, children, mothers, people with horrendous wounds, and those for whom we could only pray (including a severely malnourished and dehydrated infant who I desperately tried to help keep alive). Our team was small, less than a dozen medical professionals, but we served more than 1,000 people.

It was incredible to witness the consequences of a lack of food and water. It was even more incredible to see how people in these circumstances can carry on with a genuine smile, a sense of playfulness, faith and hope. This unquestionably helped me comprehend what nourishment means.

Following this life-changing experience, I made a trip to Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. I enrolled in a Thai culinary program on Phuket Island. We shopped at an open market, learned about traditional Thai foods and then prepared dishes such as sweet sticky rice, green curry, spicy prawn soup, Thai noodles and stir-fried vegetables. Cooking all day beachside definitely nourished not only my appetite but my creative spirit as well.

How did you find your way to Bastyr?

I have always been active and tried to power my energetic body with proper fuel. But I never imagined making a career out of it until I entered college at the University of Washington. Almost immediately I noticed students fueling their overworked bodies with inadequate dietary habits. Their stress and lack of sleep, exercise, spiritual outlets and proper foods became overwhelmingly apparent. That's when I decided I wanted to pursue nutrition.

I knew I didn’t want to study nutrition as isolated units and subjects, but with a comprehensive, whole-food, “big picture” perspective. Fortunately for me, Bastyr's approach agreed quite perfectly with mine.

What did you appreciate most about your degree program?

Rigorous science courses built the perfect foundation for an education in nutrition. Classes such as Whole Foods Production; Cultural Perspectives on Foods; Nutrition, Physical Activity and Disease; Supplements and Herbs; and Ecological Aspects of Nutrition all complemented the science foundation to achieve a well-balanced approach to nutrition.

The faculty is supportive, inspiring and knowledgeable. The honesty of the material they dispensed (presenting multiple perspectives) was something I appreciated not only as a student, but also now as a practitioner in the real world.

What's next for you? Where would you like to place your energies?

I know that I am going to participate in many more medical missions, ideally with an assortment of organizations traveling to different places. In the meantime, I will continue with clinical dietetics and uncover more projects as they present themselves.

How did your Bastyr degree prepare you for your career?

Bastyr didn’t just teach me about nutrition, but also about community, environment and culture. This knowledge serves as an invaluable springboard from which I have jumped to higher levels of understanding.