What Do You Get When You Put a Physican Behind a Hot Stove?

What do you get when you put a physician behind a hot stove?  You get a recipe for turning up the heat on our society’s efforts to address hunger, poverty and inequality.

I was in Napa this weekend to keynote a conference of 400 doctors, nurses, dieticians, and nutritionists called Healthy Kitchens, Health Living @ http://www.healthykitchens.org/   They convene annually to focus on building teaching kitchens in hospitals and medical schools so that doctors will better understand the connection between cooking, nutrition and health.  Sponsors include Harvard’s School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America.

Topics range from knife skills to gluten management, but all revolve around the notion that instead of just telling people how to eat better you need to show and engage them directly in the process.  Growing interest in hunger and poverty led to Cooking Matters presentations this year (our own Dennis Taylor from Colorado), and asking me to keynote.

The invitation was easy to accept. Mostly because of the opportunity to  enlist the medical profession in our fight against childhood hunger.  They are a natural ally. As Dr. Debbie Frank, my colleague on the National Commission in Hunger often says, hunger is “one of the ways poverty etches itself onto the bodies of my patients.” 

I urged the assembled doctors to think of teaching kitchens as not only about cooking, nutrition and health, but also about social justice. Disparities in access to nutrition, cooking skills and healthy meals go to the very heart of the inequality dividing our nation, and perpetuate it.  Being fed and fit is a fundamental prerequisite to success in school, work and life. That’s why our Cooking Matters program is such a vital part of our No Kid Hungry strategy.

As with any social justice issue what is needed most is not just knowledge, expertise, or even money. What is needed is giving voice to the voiceless. Doctors and health care professionals can be a voice for those so economically and politically marginalized that they are excluded from the national conversation.

They can be the voice that says knowing how to feed your family in ways that are healthy and affordable is not a privilege but a right. 

They can be the voice that says fighting hunger not only requires access to food, but also the knowledge of how to buy and cook it.

They can be the voice that says a united effort of the medical profession, the culinary community, educators, the food industry, and the anti-hunger and-anti-poverty community can achieve more than any of them could on their own.

We may not have all of the financial resources we need to address hunger, but at a minimum we can share the intellectual capital that transforms health, lives and communities.  As is often the case, the challenge is not to come up with an idea like teaching kitchens or breakfast in the class room, the challenge is to take such good ideas to scale.

Napa’s success as a global culinary capital was built on the faith that small seeds nurtured well can blossom into vast golden harvests. The community of medical providers there this week planted seeds about the connection between nutrition, health and a just society. Together we  must help them bloom.


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