October 24, 2023
By Rosie Russell
Action teams are about collective power, and bringing people together to affect change.

Food is Medicine

Since the beginning of human existence, knowledge about the relationship between food and health has been formed, adapted, and passed down through generations of families across many cultures and regions. So, what does it all mean? What role does healthy food play in contemporary medicine? Should healthy food be in the toolboxes of our healthcare providers, and if so, whose responsibility is it to make that happen and whose livelihood should be supported by it? These questions are ones that the Food is Medicine action team are grappling with. 

As Terese Hill from M Health Fairview shared, “beyond ‘here’s your apple’ instead of a pill, it’s trying to think about how we can be medicine, or how we can work on the entire system.” 

Terese and Jenny stand at the front of the room lean towards each other and laugh during a moment of humor while giving their update to the room of plenum attendees
Click the photo to watch a clip of Terese and Jenny’s Food Is Medicine update from Sept 8, 2023!

Every week this growing season, around 850 people across Greater Minnesota received a locally sourced meal box through M Health Fairview’s Veggie Rx program. These boxes are prescribed by healthcare providers and are going into the homes of community members whose chief challenges with their health are centered around quality food access. The boxes are sourced by local farmers who are primarily black, indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) and who are using practices that return health and biological diversity to the land and soil. This program began in 2015 to improve the intersectionof food and medicine in Minnesota’s healthcare system. However, there is not yet a shared definition of what this really means.

As a result, Jenny Breen noted that there are efforts underway to collaborate on a shared definition of “food is medicine” to get everyone on the samepage. This is something M Health Fairview is also grappling with; in terms of what role they should be taking. Therefore, planning is underway for M Health Fairview to co-host one of these conversations in each of their nine hospitals across the state of Minnesota to effectively understand their role across different geographies.

The meeting participants were impressed with this as an economically sound model and excited that BIPOC farmers are being paid fair market price for the food they are growing, all for a great cause. However, there were questions about who should be paying for it. Currently, this program is subsidized by M Health Fairview. Some wondered about insurance companies and their role. When talking to a friend of mine who works in healthcare legislation, he suggested taking a more creative approach that aligns with a universal healthcare model. All in all, this team’s progress continues to push us forward.

As the policy team works toward a shared definition, we encourage you to think about examples of “food is medicine” in your life. For me, it’s the iconic hot toddy.

For others, it may be a root they chewed on as a child, or a bowl of broth and rice their grandmother used to make them when they had an upset stomach. For some, it’s avoiding that cold glass of water in the middle of meal, so not to “put out the fire” of digestion. A dear friend of mine thought it was taking more time to eat and digest food with company, to improve nutrient uptake. My brother, Dr. Sam Russell, a pediatrician in San Diego, CA, said the American Academy of Pediatrics (and all pediatricians) will recommend tea with honey for a cough because it’s proved to be just as effective as any other over the counter cough suppressants.

What does “food is medicine” mean to you?

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