Cook4Health Workshop: Teaching Doctors About Food

FPOP held the pilot session of our Cook4Health initiative to teach medical providers about food and cooking. Doctors know surprisingly little about food and nutrition, which is a hindrance to their ability to treat the consequences of food-related disease. In order to address that, we are rolling out cooking workshops so that doctors can establish a dialogue with their patients about eating and cooking practices.

In order to address this deficit, we decided to go to young future doctors and give them some basic information and cooking tips, so that they could walk the talk and feel comfortable discussing food with their patients. In order for the doctors to preach, we wanted to show them that they really could create delicious, healthy dishes that were very affordable. We held the first workshop last Thursday and I’m proud to say it was a resounding success. The doctors were incredibly engaged in the material and were truly interested in learning about the benefits of foods.

Importantly, we insisted on focusing not just on nutrients (beta-carotene, for example), but on foods (carrots!). We also created dishes based on culturally-appropriate foods their patients already use. In this case, working with doctors who practice family medicine in Washington Heights, we chose ingredients and flavors that would be familiar to the Dominican population: corn, beans, yucca, sweet potatoes, lime, cilantro.

The direct aim of this program is to get doctors to feel comfortable talking to their patients about food — even using cooking practices as a “vital sign,” for example, since it’s very difficult to eat healthily on a low-income budget if you don’t cook.

The larger, indirect aim is to cultivate a sense of responsibility in the medical community for helping shape the food environment. Doctors have a notoriously large voice in shaping public opinion and public policy. If they become advocates for changes in our food system, we are much more likely to achieve the large-scale environmental change we need to ensure that the default choice is not the unhealthiest choice.