I reached out to Robert Graham, MD, MPH, Chef, to learn more about what we as doctors can do to create a more sustainable food system and how we can best contribute to better health and wellness for ourselves and our community.
What role can doctors serve in creating a more sustainable food system?
We all have a role to play in designing a just and sustainable food system. Everyone is hungry for a change! I strongly believe doctors have dual responsibility to both patients and society in general. We can help guide and/or influence the choices we and our patients make. We have an important role in influencing our health systems purchasing power in key issues relating to cost, cost drivers, roles and responsibilities, procurement and resource allocation. Sadly, we are not at the table when health systems are deciding what we should serve to our hospital patients. Yet, consumers want a better food system and health care systems and have expressed their willingness to be involved in health care decision making.
The current state of health, with rising rates of obesity and chronic disease can be very distressing. In hopes to inspire others, can you provide some examples of the health and wellness initiatives you and your wife Julie created that promote a more sustainable food system?
- Fare Wellness was "born" at Lenox Hill Hospital while I was working as a busy Doctor and as the Internal Medicine's Residency Program Director. Our mission was to create wellness initiatives for over-worked health care workers. Did you know health care workers are the second-most stressed out and burned out group? The only group more stressed out are our military personnel. We need to honor and protect our health care workers, and military men and women, so they can do their job and help our family and friends.
- We planted the seeds for "Victory Greens,” the first-ever hospital organic rooftop farm. It is a beautiful respite for busy hospital workers where they can go to destress, connect with nature and create a space for a real sense of community. In addition, it also provides healthier food for all--including patients.
- To help the hospital staff better manage stress, we started a yoga and meditation "Pro-Graham.” It is basically simple yoga poses to encourage movement and stretching.
- It was our culinary medicine program that was the initial inspiration for me to become a chef. We created "Meatless Monday" plant-based cooking classes for doctors and hospital chefs.
- We created our company, FRESH Medicine, which is a wellness brand and medical practice, because we felt there was a need for a FRESH prescription to health. The current “sick-care” system did not feel right to us. FRESH is an acronym for the five ingredient recipe to better health: Food, Relaxation, Exercise, Sleep and Happiness. We believe all five are synergistic and can offer people a FRESH prescription to live a long and prosperous life.
In 2015, I was asked to present my TED talk at TEDxManhattan. I named it "Back To Our Roots" because I believe we have to look at the "root" cause of everything, including disease. And, there is something nourishing when we go back "home" to our "roots," to know what is right and best for us.
I prescribe food as medicine in a field I helped create, Culinary Medicine, because while food may be the problem, it is also the solution when it comes to our health. Together, Julie and I have taught health care workers --mostly doctors-- how to cook, meditate, do yoga, get better sleep and pursue their passions in life, just like we did. I encourage you to go back to your "roots" and take good care of them. If you follow the FRESH recipe to health, you will become your healthiest, happiest self.
Robert Graham, MD, MPH
Robert E. Graham, MD, MPH, ABOIM, FACP, Chef is the Co–Founder of FRESH Medicine. He is a Harvard-trained physician, board certified in both Internal and Integrative Medicine, a public health scientist, TED speaker, food activist and Chef. Dr. Graham received his medical degree from the School of Medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital. He earned a Masters of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health while completing three fellowships in General Internal Medicine, Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies and Medical Education at Harvard Medical School. One of less than twenty doctor/chefs worldwide, he obtained his culinary degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute.