Food is Medicine: ‘It’s Not Just About Food–It’s About Friendship

Food is Medicine: ‘It’s Not Just About Food–It’s About Friendship

April 19, 20244 min read

Kim Solomon’s kitchen showed all the signs of a good lunch in the making – chopped veggies on the counter, a few dirty dishes in the sink and two people laughing as they cooked.

“Don’t worry, we’re going to clean all this up,” ChristianaCare community health worker Michelle Torres, BBA-HM, said as she sliced tilapia for the heart-healthy fish tacos she was making with Solomon.

“I’m not worried about the mess, especially when it tastes this yummy,” Solomon said as she watched Torres place the raw fish – coated with panko crumbs, spices and an egg wash – into the air fryer.

A few years earlier, Solomon’s lunch would have been something quick from the pantry after cooking for her sons or helping a neighbor. But after dealing with the life-threatening effects of high blood pressure, she is learning – with Torres’ help – how to prioritize her own nutrition and health.

Solomon is one of more than 225 patients enrolled in the Delaware Food Farmacy, a ChristianaCare partnership with Lutheran Community Services that provides weekly deliveries of locally sourced produce, meat and other foods, along with one-on-one support from a community health worker.

Delaware Food Farmacy participants report lower A1C blood glucose levels, healthier blood pressure readings and reduced body mass index.

Dishing out good health

“It took me getting very sick to finally make my own health a priority in my life, and that’s a humbling experience,” said Solomon, who lives in Bear, Delaware.

“This is not just about food – it is about friendship, and Michelle’s support really gives me motivation. It keeps me excited to hear her voice and know that she’s there for me.”

Kim Solomon (left) finds prioritizing her own nutrition and health can be delicious, as she prepares panko-crusted tilapia for fish tacos with community health worker Michelle Torres.

ChristianaCare is expanding efforts to reduce food insecurity among patients in an ongoing commitment to ending disparities and in recognition that access to nutritious food is critical to overall health.

In addition to the Delaware Food Farmacy, over 100 Maryland Primary Care Program (MDPCP) patients are participating in Healthy Food, Healthy Hearts, a 12-week program that delivers fresh groceries to under-resourced Medicare patients with complex health needs.

“Our focus is empowering people to maintain their health by giving them the resources they need for whole-person care, including healthy food and education related to meal preparation and living with a chronic health condition,” said Erin Booker, LPC, chief biopsychosocial officer for ChristianaCare.

“Through our work with our community partners in the Food Farmacy program in Delaware and our Healthy Food, Healthy Hearts program in Maryland, we are acknowledging the intersection of nutrition and health care and the importance of creating a more equitable food system.”

Food is Medicine

Both programs operate on the Food Is Medicine model, which recognizes that nutritious foods are essential for good health – and they must be accessible in the community, particularly in under-resourced areas.

Studies have shown that evidence-based, tailored food interventions can lead to improved health outcomes and better use of health care services among participants while also reducing food insecurity, said Michelle Axe, MS, CHES, program manager of Food and Social Care Initiatives for ChristianaCare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2023 that food insecurity results in nearly $77 billion in excess health care spending.

Veggie power: Much of the food in the Food Farmacy is sourced locally through a cooperative agreement with Delaware’s Department of Agriculture and the Farm-to-Community Program, which connects local farms with organizations distributing food to the community.

Among Food Farmacy graduates, 26% report a decrease in food insecurity and 18% said they experience less anxiety.

“With these programs, we’re offering participants an opportunity to make a change in their life, not only for them as individuals, but for the entire family,” Axe said. “This is about more than food.”

From farm to table

Getting health care professionals to prescribe healthier food options – and then making it possible for the patients to obtain them – helps close the gap between medical nutrition and financial health, said Rob Gurnee, executive director of Lutheran Community Services.

“Providing food – that’s our core competency,” Gurnee said. “What really makes this program different and incredibly valuable is that ChristianaCare can funnel the right people into the program and then maintain these relationships to help patients make changes that are sustainable. Together, we utilize the strengths of our organizations with the goal of improving health outcomes.”

Each week, Delaware Food Farmacy participants select from a menu of fresh produce, lean meats and fish, whole grains, low-fat dairy, snacks and other healthy items, all of which fall under the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

Fresh-picked: With Delaware Food Farmacy, patients are getting local produce that is typically picked within 24 to 48 hours.

Much of the food distributed through Delaware Food Farmacy is sourced locally through a cooperative agreement with Delaware’s Department of Agriculture and the Farm-to-Community Program, which connects local farms with organizations distributing food to the community.

Solomon’s refrigerator is filled with local produce, eggs and lean meats from the Food Farmacy program, but it’s Torres who keeps Solomon on the path to good health with her encouraging personality and a tasty supply of easy-to-make recipes.

A recipe for healthy eating: Air Fryer Fish Tacos. Kim Solomon’s review? “Yummy.”

“She’s there to support you and help you understand it’s going to be OK,” Solomon said. “She goes above and beyond every time. We need more Michelles in our world.”

Connect with:
  • Michelle L. Axe, MS, CHES
    Michelle L. Axe, MS, CHES Community Health Program Manager

    Michelle Axe is a Community Health Program Manager overseeing the departments food and social care initiatives.

  • Erin Booker, LPC
    Erin Booker, LPC Chief Bio-Psycho-Social Officer

    Erin Booker, LPC, is the Chief Bio-Psycho-Social Officer at ChristianaCare.

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