We Need More Good Food

Doing what you think is right and saying what needs to be said isn’t always popular.

Originally written June 2013 for Cultivate Kansas City’s Urban Grown Farms & Garden at the Downtown Kansas City Public Library

We live on the border of Johnson and Wyandotte County – at opposite ends of the health and income spectrum. On a smaller scale, juxtaposition can also be found next door. A year ago, I was in the front yard watering when I hollered to my state-farm neighbor, Jake, if he knew what a large, fuzzy plant was. He said, “I dunno, Brando, some type of weed? It looks like the goshdamn nature preserve over there!” That’s exactly what I am going for! I’m working on a front yard of wild beautifuls and backyard of edibles! While Jake is out mowing his well-manicured lawn, I’m tilling up grass and sprinkling seeds harvested from the side of the road.

Now, I love to please people. I genuinely want to make you smile. But I’ve learned that you can’t please everyone. Doing what you think is right and saying what needs to be said isn’t always popular.

As a medical student at KU, I’ve also found this to be true in the clinic. I am now in the middle of my training to become a nutrition scientist. So from a health & nutrition perspective, I have some unpopular facts to share.

First, there isn’t enough good food to eat. As a nation, we don’t produce enough fresh fruit and vegetables for everyone to eat their recommended 5 a day!

I am a hippie. I rejuvenate and recharge by immersing myself in nature. I like to run in the woods, on trail and off-trail; it’s called “bush-whacking.” It’s both a blessing and a curse, because everywhere I drive, I want to pull over and explore the bushwhackable forest! So when you’re driving down the highway and see clumps of trees off to the side, just think, I might be in there!

In a similar vein, all over this city, I see arable land. Empty lots are lost sunlight! Let’s capture the sunlight as edible plants and chew! This untapped potential makes me optimistic about local food in Kansas City. There’s so much room for urban agriculture in KC to grow! (Pun intended).

Second, we have too much of the bad food. Our food landscape is full crappiness. KUMed is on Rainbow Blvd, which houses 7 fast food restaurants between 39th and 43rd. As a new processed food dispensary just opened (7-Eleven), the Rosedale community remains a certified food desert. If we want people to eat well, we have to change the environment. This is where Food is Medicine comes in.

Food is Medicine is a student-lead group open to all at KUMed. We are working to build an environment that makes the healthy choice convenient and cheap. We brought a CSA (community supported agriculture) to campus with Good-Natured Family Farms last year. Goode Food Delivered now supplies and organizes our CSA. We have built a community garden for students to grow and enjoy fresh, pure produce. It has an infantile fruit orchard with berry bushes and 11 raised beds of veggies. This past Spring we established a program called Good Grabs; we bought almost 1,800 pieces of fruit and gave them to students. We plan to expand this next year. Now we’ve set our sights on the cafeteria! Rather than shooting dirty glances at folk walking around campus with soda-sloshing Styrofoam cups and boxes wafting French fries and chicken tenders, we want to change what food that’s offered and how it’s promoted. We have a long way to go; Krispy Kreme donuts are two-for-one after 3pm... We hope to convince those in key positions of power that it’s not only unethical to serve such tasty, cheap, disease-promoting food in a hospital, but it’s bad business in terms of employee wellness!

We are trying to make it cool to be healthy. Like cigarette-smoking doctors are now frowned upon, we hope it will be equally unacceptable to walk around with a McDonald’s bag or a Sonic 44oz. At KUMed, we are trying to shape a generation of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals that to heal others, to improve wellness in the broadest and most sustainable sense, we must start with ourselves. That’s what it means to be a true health professional.

I imagine KU Med as a place that promotes community health with real food, in addition to pills and procedures. That’s our vision. We will know we have achieved our goal when a local apple (when they’re in season) is cheaper and easier to find than a bag of potato chips. What if people came to the cafeteria not because their family member is sick, but because it offers an array of delicious and nutritious food at competitive prices! We are optimistic, winning over hearts and brains one stomach at a time.