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A Doctor and a Nutritionist Team Up

Chef Jenny Breen, left, and Dr. Kate Shafto are teaching doctors to health professionals how to take care of themselves first so they can prescribe healthy lifestyles to their patients.

Sometimes you’re singing to the choir and sometimes you’re singing a cappella, waiting for the orchestra to finish tuning their instruments so they can catch up.

Kate Shafto, a board certified physician in internal medicine, pediatrics and integrative medicine, was frustrated with the medical profession’s indifference to teaching medical students the value of advocating healthy eating and lifestyle changes instead of always reaching for their prescription pads. 

Jenny Breen, a chef and co-owner of Good Life Cafe and Catering, a sustainable and whole foods business from 1996-2013, was an early advocate of farm to table. She went back to school in 2011 to earn her Master’s of Public Health in nutrition, because she wanted to do more. 

The two healthy-eating proponents met four years ago and joined forces to create of a course called Food Matters, which uses “food and cooking to teach applied, evidence-based nutrition and its relationship to health and disease.”The pilot program was funded through a grant with the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

The pilot was held at Good Acres, because they needed a kitchen, and 60 applicants were whittled down to 18 medical students. The instructors wanted both age diversity and students who had experienced food insecurity, Shafto says. The class was successful, and the future doctors learned to think differently about their own eating habits and also those of the people they would treat. 

“Self-care and caregiving are two sides of the same coin,” Shafto says. “We have to learn to take care of ourselves and to be well. Future practitioners who take our class can talk about that.”

Food Matters expanded to include health professional students from all disciplines and is offered for one credit through the Center for Spirituality and Healing, as well as a nine-hour continuing education version for clinicians.

After that success, the duo wanted to expand their platform. The focus of their evangelism is cooking—as well as lifestyle changes. 

“We live in a toxic environment,” Breen contends. “It’s a societal problem, not (just) an individual problem.” But that doesn’t mean individuals don’t have responsibility for their own health—or for the greater good. 

“You have to commit, you can’t just dabble in it,” Breen says. 

What Breen calls the “metal straw syndrome” is just a Band-Aid for a bigger problem. “How about you drink drinks that don’t require a straw?” she says. 

And then there’s recycling. We’re trained to recycle what we buy and take home, but the real change comes on the front end, when consumers purchase in such a way that all that packaging isn’t needed.

Breen and Shafto have formed a consultancy, Feed Your Health, which they advertise as “training and consulting from farm to kitchen to clinic.” In addition to teaching nutrition, they teach people the lost art of cooking at home, stocking a pantry and using ingredients that aren’t just healthy, but healing. 

The term being used for medicinal-foods currently is “functional foods,” but Breen thinks that term is a “turn-off.”

The language of a trend is important, she says, and while no one seems to have found a more palatable term, eating foods that can help with a medical condition, such as lowering cholesterol or reducing inflammation is both an old and new idea at the same time.

While their focus has been primarily on the medical and health community, the two have some advice for restaurant owners, as well. 

First off when you have an offering such as a veggie burger, educate your servers on what is in it. To someone on a special diet, it matters if there’s corn or beans or tofu in the burger.  Servers should know if an item is going to affect someone with food sensitivities and be able to explain what they can remove to make the item something they can eat. 

Also prepare your staff that as customers become better educated; thanks to all the resources out there on the internet, they will be more high-maintenance. And the more concerned customers are about the food on their plates, the harder it may be for employees not to get annoyed with them. Which creates stress for everyone involved.

Which is why another part of the health equation is ensuring that your staff is eats well and is respected. They told of one restaurateur in town who pays for yoga classes for his staff. 

While taking care of your staff is the right thing to do, it’s also a good business decision. In the first 30 seconds of walking in a restaurant, you feel the energy of the people who work there, Shafto says. “And if they’re overworked and crabby and don’t feel well, you’ll see that,” Breen adds. And then so much for a return visit.  

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