‘Food as Medicine’ Hits Mainstream; but Still Needs to Hit Main Street

Food heals. It comforts. It sustains. But good food is not found where many people who need it the most live.

At a recent healthy food preparation demonstration at our Ruby Cole Community Kitchen, Charles Jackson, Jr., an MSU Extension nutrition instructor, gave a simple but thoughtful explanation of why fresh food “from the soil” is better than processed food. Fresh food is prepared by people who know you and love you. Processed food is prepared by people who don’t know you or love you.

Poet Crystal Wilkinson, in her book Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts, offers a lyrical perspective: “I eat for taste. I eat to remember. Food is a conduit to the past. I am thinking of healing. I am thinking of this notion of eating what the body craves come spring, a communal memory housed in the cells. Healing.”

In this land of plenty, children need to be fed in school, not just at lunch, but at breakfast. And not just during the school year. There is hunger in American in a culture that also is plagued with obesity. The disease of overconsumption is also a disease of malnutrition. And too many folks move from food deserts to food swamps, unable to find something good to eat at an affordable price.

Preparing fresh food not only provides nutrition, but also can offer a setting for conversation around health and well-being. Amanda Dawnrich, as an Albert Schweitzer Fellow at Authority Health, demonstrated that women — returning citizens — could find common ground through demonstrations of healthy cooking at Heartline in Detroit.

As the concept of “food as medicine” makes its way into mainstream health system programming, it needs to hit main street where the most vulnerable people live. Initiatives like the Detroit Great Grocer Project, developed by the Detroit Food Policy Council, provide a foundational step toward promoting healthy food in stores and markets where they already are going to and not getting fresh produce or healthy “grab and go” food products. Authority Health demonstrated through a State of Michigan pilot program a few years ago that you can sell healthy grab and go products in gas stations and convenience stores.

This year, through a state grant, Authority Health will launch the Healthy and Resilient Community initiative, designed to expand access to healthy grab and go foods, as well as promote nutrition and healthy eating at the neighborhood level. Good food sustains healthy people and provides resilience to withstand the next health challenge — whether it be a community disease outbreak or a personal illness or injury. The challenge is to meet people where they are with what they need and encourage them to want it.

As Jackson pointed out, we need to bring more love into the homes of people through good, healthy food. In the coming months, Authority Health will be doing just that, with the help of our community partners.

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