Featured photo: As a queer, femme, Southern Black woman and a Winston-Salem resident, Carrie Kholi-Murchison is Whole30’s vice president of social impact and strategy. (courtesy photo)
Atkins, keto, Mediterranean, Zone, DASH, paleo, low-carb, Weight Watchers. You’ve likely heard of them or even tried a few; they’re diets. But have you heard of Whole30?
Started in 2009 by Melissa Hartwig Urban, Whole30 is a diet that discourages the consumption of sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes and dairy for 30 days. It permits meat, seafood, eggs, veggies, fruit and fats like vegetable oils and coconut oil, and tree nuts. Now there are Whole30 online coaches, cookbooks, branded salad dressings, blogs and podcasts.
Upon creation, white women flocked to the wellness cult in droves. But an internal audit of users of the program found that there was a dearth of respect to communities of color, especially Black users of Whole30 as well. The program has always been free and easily accessible online but the audit revealed that involvement in the program was about more than just the fiscal cost. No cultural and heritage recipes were represented accurately. People were not seeing themselves in the Whole30 online community. Something had to be done.
That’s where Carrie Kholi-Murchison comes in. As a queer, femme, Southern Black woman and a Winston-Salem resident, Kholi embraces multiple identities, making her the perfect fit as Whole30’s vice president of social impact and strategy. In the position, she leads diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives across all Whole30 platforms and works to enhance the quality of life for historically marginalized communities.
How would you describe Whole30 and what does it mean to you?
Whole30 is not a diet. It’s a 45-day elimination protocol where people eliminate inflammatory foods like dairy, sugar and alcohol. It’s a self-experiment that helps people establish and transform their health habits and relationship with food. It’s intended to help humans make sure they never have to be on a lifelong diet and that they can experience freedom in nourishing themselves without unexpected illness and intolerance. As an individual, I know that the information and habits you receive from doing a Whole30 can literally change your life. It has mine, especially as a person that used to suffer from inflammation and terrible breakouts and food allergies. So, it’s a process that I want absolutely everyone to know about.
What, in your opinion, needed to change within Whole30 to be accessible for all?
Creating systems to check and to recognize unintended harm, that must be built into the foundation of a company. Creating spaces for different intersections of personalities and culture was needed. The company space was full of middle-class white women and that space was not built for people of color, multicultural or diverse populations. Representation is real, and systematic oppression and bias exist. It started with conversations. Paying collaborators for their recipes and time, changing the Whole30 cookbook from hardback to softcover to lower the price, changing the recipes to reflect the cultural appreciation of food and the historical pathways of ingredients.
How did Whole30 change its diversity initiatives with you at the helm?
We started by acknowledging what it means for the company and what equitable action looks like, what it means to define diversity for the community, what it means to be included for a company that exists in a digital space while being accountable to business partners and the Whole30 community. We had to create a space for all of these things.
One of the first things we did was going back to how do we talk to one another. Everyone feels connected because of the internet, but the voices don’t match. We had to agree to a set standard for engagement and lean into that and build from there. Anyone should be able to do Whole30. If that is being led by white people, how do we take Whole30 and make this a point of communal wellness?
We are more privileged by actively not talking about Black bodies, so we have to do it. We have to make clear our values and educate the community. We want to acknowledge how food is more than how we feed ourselves.
How did growing up in Winston-Salem prepare you for your current role and why did you stay?
What I do recognize in hindsight, is that I grew up in a very Black family. A very Black family that did Black things.
I grew up in Black churches in Winston-Salem, so I knew about how to organize around food tables. I knew how to get people together to network, grouping resources as a way of care. I think so much of my life in Winston was about food as a point of caring, of figuring out how to build community and then figuring out how that community was going to take care of each other. I still do that, but it’s on a very different level. It’s not everybody gathered in my grandmother’s kitchen on a Sunday, but it’s about me trying to get folks to recognize that those are valid ways of being…. It’s what we’re doing now is trying to build a brighter future, a more inclusive future, and useful future for everyone.
I’m also West African and so I also had a very African kind of childhood, like a kind of immigrant childhood. I spent my time split between Black and white worlds. In a lot of ways, Winston is very, very white when you go outside of Black neighborhoods. And it prepared me for what was to be expected of me in some form of leadership.
I grew up in a West African-American home in the south with real middle-class values and honestly, it was a lot of expectation…. There was so much at stake for us because I had parents who were expecting me to be the world and have all of these things. There was probably a lot of disappointment on their behalf. I don’t think they expected to have a queer kid; I had a lot of feelings around not belonging. I want folks to always feel like they belong and I’m obviously still doing that with my work. So, we just wanted to be [in Winston-Salem] and figure our way into those spaces and bring our work as close to home as possible.