December 12, 2014

For the Love of Food

by Kelly McGlynn '15

Kelly McGlynn is a senior concentrating in Environmental Studies. Kelly is a member of the Food is Medicine group in the Healthy Food Access Tri-Lab.

If I had to choose one thing that unites just about all cultures, periods, and people, it would be the love of food. Yes, we need food to function, but if that was the only reason we ate it we would all be taking nutrient and energy pills by now, engineered to give us everything we need for our bodies to thrive.

But that’s not how it works. Throughout history cultures have emphasized the beauty of cooking and eating. From the most fanciful culinary experts to the most straightforward burger-eaters, we all love food in our own personal way. This is something that I hold to be essential as I work with the Healthy Food Access Tri-Lab; as much as we try to focus on the importance of health and nutrition, it is vital to remember that at the fundamental level, everyone has their own relationship with food.

It is this relationship that the “food as medicine” group I am a part of tries to foster during our cooking and education classes with clients at who have type 2 diabetes. During classes, we try to maintain an emphasis on the enjoyment of healthy meals, but it’s a tough balance to strike. Telling someone what to eat is an intrusion into their personal life and habits, and one that we do not and cannot take lightly. However, the skills and recipes we teach them can go a long way in a great direction. The program has been shown to help participants move towards a healthier body weight, better manage their blood sugar levels, and even reduce their grocery bills.

A lot of the people we worked with started out by saying that they try to “eat healthy”, but that it’s hard, between financial pressures, families to cook for, and most importantly, the fact that they just like other foods better. One person told us that she is a “meat and potatoes kind of girl”, while another proudly described how he makes what is, in his mind, indisputably the best cheesecake around. While holding true to the realities of nutrition and health advice, we did not discourage these sources of personal pride and identification. Rather, by preparing meals that were healthy, affordable, and enjoyable to eat, we tried to offer alternatives that would appeal to our groups. The broccoli mac and cheese and vegetable lo mien were especially popular, although everyone had a personal favorite!

Everyone cares about health. Everyone also has an individual and sacred connection to the foods that they eat and know. When people are diagnosed with diabetes, they have to learn a new way of eating, and I hope that the work we did at McAuley helped our group of clients along in that very personal process. However, what I still hold to be most essential is that everyone has access to their own individual food choices and preferences; this is the real meaning of healthy food access.

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