Effective treatment that gives more than it costs.
“Your numbers say that you are pre-diabetic,” says your family doctor. “Here, let me write you a prescription.”
As she scribbles something on her prescription pad, her pager starts buzzing loudly. She is requested to assist a pregnant patient, so she quickly says “fill the prescription and come back to see me in three months” before rushing out.
You slowly gather your coat and bag, a bit stunned. Pre-diabetic? “I guess that was expected, Dad had type 2 diabetes,” you think as you walk out of the clinic. It’s only once you are seated in your car that you unfold the prescription. It says: “10-week Better Life Kitchen program.” What the heck is that? It doesn’t sound like something you can get from the pharmacy.
Six weeks later, you find yourself in the kitchen of your local community center with your group of cooking buddies. There’s a dozen of you, mostly women in their fifties, but also two or three men in their early sixties. The topic of the day is “tasty and healthy stews” but you know that, after everyone has pulled on their apron, the session will start with a three-minute gratitude meditation. The first time, you thought it was weird to start a cooking class with a mindfulness exercise. But after the second week, you noticed that it made chopping vegetables more enjoyable somehow, and you’ve made it a habit of taking a few slow breaths before cooking at home, too.
It’s not the only thing you’ve noticed. When you took the dairy-free challenge during the first two weeks, you lost seven pounds — probably just from cutting out cheese. Also, you don’t notice your knees as much when you go up stairs. Weird. Is it the extra helping of greens and beans… or the smaller amounts of red meat?
Each week is focused on learning basic recipes to prepare the most common healthy plant-based dishes, like soups, stews, bowls, and stir-fries, plus some foundational skills like how to cut an onion without losing a finger or shedding a tear. You work in teams of two, sometimes quietly, sometimes sharing stories from your family’s cooking traditions.
At the end of every class, you sit around a big table with the other learners to eat the fruit of your labor and chat about your group project: your team is assigned to volunteer with a local food bank next week, where you’ll help cook the dish to distribute to those who have ordered “meals on wheels.”
After class, walking home, you return to your apartment feeling satiated. You sleep well that night. You took home some leftover chili, so there is a delicious lunch for you the next day.
Yes, you are learning to cook health vegan meals, but you are also making new friends, working together toward a common purpose: preparing nourishing meals for yourself… and others. Improving your health, reducing your environmental footprint, and injecting compassion and hope in your community.
Three months later, you are back at your doctor’s office. You don’t need hear her read the results of your recent blood tests to know that you are doing better, because you are feeling better already. You are looking forward to heading back to the community center, because as a program graduate you’re going to help the facilitator with a new group that’s starting tonight.
The author, Brigitte Gemme, is a healthy vegan cooking mentor at Vegan Family Kitchen and author of the book Flow in the Kitchen: Practices for Healthy Stress-Free Vegan Cooking. She dreams of a new day where the pillars of lifestyle medicine hold up the roof of planetary health, creating a more meaningful and compassionate world for all.
Got ideas along the same lines? Know of any initiatives aligned with similar principles? Share what you know and think in the comments! And keep on cooking.