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I have been standing at the intersection of food and health for over 30 years. After closing my restaurant and finding my way toward medical school, the way that I cooked changed slowly but steadily. Those were the bad old days of nutrition when we thought that butter was bad and margarine was good. That and a lot of other very restrictive practices in the world of nutrition forced me to be very creative. I learned to cook differently – better, I think – and I have worked hard to keep up with the state of the art in evidence-based nutrition while balancing that with a food-first approach.
As our body of knowledge has improved and the science evolved, so has my cooking. Not only do we now know that butter is OK and low-fat diets were misguided, the research shows us one simple thing: fresh, well prepared food is good for you.
This past weekend I participated in putting on a conference – Health Meets Food: The Culinary Medicine Conference – that brought that simple tenet to a large group of physicians, nurses, dietitians, chefs, insurance executives, food consultants, food service providers, urban farmers, and the community (I am certain that I left people off of this list). This conference grows out of the work at The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine with our 35 partner academic medical centers across the country. This began 3 years ago as an opportunity to evaluate and update our curriculum and how we teach nursing students, medical students, and residents. It has grown into so much more.
In addition to our discussions and presentations on the programming for healthcare professionals and community members, attendees participated in hands-on cooking classes, roundtable discussions, networking, presentation of research projects, and skill-building for training our students and residents. Here are just a few of the topics:
Over 160 people attended the conference from as far away as London, Alaska and Hawaii.
The lonely corner of food and health that I have been standing on for 30 years is no longer lonely. It is, in fact, quite crowded and there a number of things that I don't believe that I could have predicted even five years ago. For example, 4 medical schools and 11 residency programs now have mandatory hands-on cooking classes for their students and residents. Almost 1,500 physicians and nurses in training took Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine programming last year learning how to have a food-first discussion with their patients about, well, food.
And why should we talk about food? Because we don't eat nutrition. None of us go to the grocery store with a shopping list that says "1 bottle monounsaturated fat, 1 pound lean protein, and a box of complex carbohydrates." We shop for olive oil and chicken and whole wheat pasta. And your doctor should know that and know how to advise you on what to eat. Why? Because food is a critical aspect of our health that has not been addressed as well as it should have been - and knowing about food will help save lives.
There is so much that I believe will evolve in the coming years - things that I never thought would happen in my lifetime. Your doctor will know more about food. Hospital food will get better (a lot better, both in that it will taste better and it will be good for you). Insurance companies will help you and provide food and training. Food will become a central part of our therapy rather than an afterthought.
Timothy S. Harlan, MD