Amanda Holliday has a heart for small-town N.C.
Name: Amanda Holliday
Position: Clinical assistant professor and director of the Practice, Advancement & Continuing Education Division, Department of Nutrition
Time at UNC Gillings: Almost 10 years
What I do at the Gillings School (and why I love it): I teach classes on medical nutrition therapy, nutrition across the life cycle and the clinical nutrition experience. I also support students who are completing the 1,200 internship hours required to become a Registered Dietitian. It’s fascinating work because our students complete those internship hours all across North Carolina and around the world.
Being around students is definitely my favorite part of my job. I learn more from them than they do from me! They bring me new ideas and share experiences from their travels. They have a lot of achievements to celebrate, but they go through hard things, too – I’m just honored to be part of their lives. I also like working in an environment that allows me to be innovative and try out new ideas. One example is facilitating sensory experiences that teach students about the physical challenges faced by some older adults. Another example is using PRISM software to automate our data-collecting process for student internship hours – I actually won an innovation grant to develop that program. Finally, as a native North Carolinian, I enjoy serving the citizens of our fine state.
I care so much about the health of our aging population: in large part because I grew up on a street with mostly older adults. My parents were the youngest couple around. They knew everyone and always let me visit our neighbors’ houses – those older folks were my good friends! I also spent a significant amount of time with my grandparents when I was young, and I later volunteered in nursing homes in high school. I’ve just always felt at ease around older people. After my maternal grandmother developed vascular dementia, it felt like I was being called to figure out how to improve the way we treat dementia in this country. Not everyone realizes this, but eating well is a huge part of that treatment. Food is one thing that people hold onto even when the way their minds work is shifting. Because of that, it’s so vital to make mealtime a pleasant experience for all the senses. That means providing tasty, nutritious meals, but it also means considering the lighting and smells in the dining room, how the food looks on the plate, whether the atmosphere is social and upbeat… environment really matters.
To start a conversation with me, ask about: gardening. It’s not that I’m an expert! I just really like flowers. At home, I keep a lot of pots full of blooms, and most of the plants in my yard were grown from clippings given to me by friends and neighbors. I just dip each clipping in rooting hormone and watch it start a new life – I really love that process. Yellow tulips are my favorite flower, and I dream of one day going to the Netherlands to see all the tulips in bloom.
You can also talk to me about N.C. culture. Southern culture is alive and well here, particularly in the food world! To a visitor, I would say, “Eat okra and butterbeans. Try barbeque from all parts of the state. Go to local markets and take the scenic byways; enjoy small towns. They have so much life!” I’ve actually never been out of the country, but there’s plenty to explore right here. Sometimes I hear people say things like, “I’ve been to more than 20 countries.” That’s great, but I always want to ask, “How many N.C. counties have you been to?” I’m extremely proud to say I’ve visited all 100 counties in this state and can tell you about a town in each one.
When it comes to my favorite and least favorite meals: my single favorite food is grilled okra. You just cannot beat it! For a meal, I like a big plate of fresh veggies in the middle of summer. I’m picturing some sliced tomatoes, corn on the cob and fresh berries. I also love making my own yogurt – I go through about three quarts a week. As for my least favorite food, well, there are no bad foods. I’m not a big fan of liver and onions, I suppose, and I stay away from anything highly processed. But I do like ice cream and homemade sweets! Memories are made over food preparation, and any time you make something with your own hands, love goes into it.
If I had one superpower: I’d want to time travel. I’d take my daughter, Hannah, who is eleven, to visit her great-grandparents when they were in their prime. We’d tell stories, share a meal and get one last hug. My grandparents lived in West Jefferson, N.C., which is my absolute favorite place in the world. I go back there every summer for a week. Each time I leave, a part of my soul stays behind, and I don’t see that part of myself again until we return. The air is cleaner there; the food tastes better – that little town is pure peace and happiness to me.