How do we classify food? Can we be more mindful of the ways in which food is nourishing our bodies?
In 2016 I was living in Fredonia, shortly after my graduation from college, and was working a paycheck to paycheck position at the local food pantry. At the time my diet certainly didn’t consist of fruits and vegetables at the rate it does today. I was simply trying to survive.
Each week I would crunch my budget, do my best to fill the gaps with the $65 a month I received in EBT benefits, and utilized the very pantry I managed. And thus, most of the food I consumed included highly processed grains, frozen meals, canned fruits and vegetables, and quick and cheap snacks. Food was simply that: food. And what I could get kept me alive.
Several years later, once I had found a higher paying position and began to cultivate a diet rich in fresh veggies, I first heard the term ‘food as medicine’. This movement, started by a non-profit organization called The Wholesome Wave, seemed to be quite ‘out there’. How can FOOD be MEDICINE? It’s just food.
But then I recalled the diet I had whilst living in poverty; if medicine heals us, the food I was consuming certainly was not. It was keeping me alive, sure, but it wasn’t the kind of food that truly nourished me. My diet, and the diet of many of those who utilize EBT benefits, or visit food pantries or soup kitchens was simply unhealthy.
In the time since, food pantries and soup kitchens have begun to slowly change their models. No longer do they simply offer sodium rich canned veggies, or fruit soaked in fruit syrup (although those staples remain in abundance). They have begun to realize that while fed is best, all individuals deserve the dignity of a healthy meal. Changing that model, however, has proven difficult, and many non-profits, community organizations and even schools have worked to supplement community’s food needs, working to ensure that all individuals have access to fresh, healthy foods.
We at the Jamestown Public Market jumped on the ‘food as medicine’ bandwagon three years ago with the introduction of our ‘Veggie RX’ program, in collaboration with The Chautauqua Center. Each market season, patients of TCC, as well as this most recent year of The Resource Center, obtain a ‘prescription’ for fresh produce, provided by their primary care physician, dentist or behavioral health worker.
In exchange, individuals can get up to four produce items for free each week at a Jamestown Mobile Market site, the Fredonia Farmers Market or the Dunkirk Farmers Market. This past year we had over 600 Veggie RX coupons redeemed, with 90% of participants stating the program helped to provide more fruits and vegetables into their diet. Many of these individuals live in poverty, and unfortunately live with the consequences of a poor diet: diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
While we, dozens of programs nationwide, have understood the importance of ‘food as medicine’, it has taken a while for the rest of our world to catch up. However, we are beyond thrilled to announce that the Biden Administration held a nutrition symposium earlier this month. The goal: to announce federal guidelines and program implementation suggestions based on the idea of ‘food as medicine’.
Medical professionals the world over, but more specifically across the United States, are realizing that our diet has significant impact on our health. Thus, viewing food as something holding preventative and healing powers should lead to systemic change. I was shocked to realize this was the first symposium on nutrition held by our federal government since 1969! What an example of the hold ‘Big Agriculture’ has had on us!
Some suggestions brought forth at this symposium include: introducing reimbursement procedures for Medicaid and Medicare recipients to receive ‘food as medicine’ benefits; a standardized nutrition curriculum mandatory for all med students at major institutions; and an increase in funding for farm to school initiatives.
Hannah and I attended a conference in Buffalo summarizing these findings, and we found ourselves invigorated. We have been doing this work for several years, because we knew it was the best thing for our community. What a joy to be validated by the experts and leaders in our country!
You too can begin to live with the motto ‘food IS medicine’. What foods are you putting into your body? Could you increase the number of fruits and veggies you consume? How are you supporting community members that currently can not access fresh, nourishing foods? Do certain barriers in your life prevent you from accessing fresh foods? If so, have you turned to programs for assistance?
We at the Jamestown Public Market work hard to provide information to those in need, no matter their income or diet, as well as offer recipes, food demonstrations and more at our programs. We hope that soon, everyone in Jamestown view foods as medicine, and are mindful of how our diet effects our daily lives.
For more information on the Food As Medicine Symposium visit: https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/white-house-conference-hunger-nutrition-and-health
To learn more about our Veggie RX program, and to learn how to support it, contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org