“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” prescribed Hippocrates 2,400 years ago.
Western society has still largely failed to fill that prescription. But in New York City today, progress is being made by academics, health-care professionals, policy makers, community organizations and concerned citizens. On November 30, 2017, at the Silberman School of Social Work in East Harlem, Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center brought hundreds of those stakeholders together for the first time.
Under the banner “Bringing Everyone to the Table,” the inaugural NYC Food as Medicine Summit presented 35 speakers and panelists to a capacity crowd of 600 and more than 200 additional livestream viewers. Admission was free, discussions were accompanied by cooking demonstrations, and a nutritional lunch was served.
The three keynote speakers were Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; Dr. Robert Graham, co-founder of FRESHMed NYC; and Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. Other representatives of health-care institutions, community-based organizations and city government included Dr. Robert Osfeld, director of Montefiore Medical Center’s Cardiac Wellness Program; Nancy Easton, executive director of Wellness in the Schools; Dr. Francesca Gany, chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Immigrant Health and Cancer Disparities Service; and Stephen O’Brien, director of strategic partnerships at the NYC Department of Education’s Office of School Food.
Among the panelists representing the producers and distributors of healthful foods were Erika Freund of the West Side Campaign against Hunger, and Delma Avila of Food Bank NYC’s Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables program. Panel discussions of diet’s role in fighting or contributing to cancer, diabetes and heart disease included analyses of the obstacles posed by poverty, homelessness and food insecurity.
“It’s clear that eating unhealthy food is a major cause of food-related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers,” said Charles Platkin, executive director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center. “Food needs to be part of the solution. For real, sustainable change to occur, everyone needs to be brought to the table, including chefs, restauranteurs, physicians, dietitians, other health-care professionals, government staffers, elected officials and community-based organizations. The Center’s Food as Medicine Summit was a catalyst, and one of the first in New York City to bring so many to the table.”