In the early 1990s, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) began its rise with the development of the National Institutes of Health’s CAM center. However, scientists and clinicians struggled with the decision of whether or not to allow individuals access to information on these CAM approaches. I was part of that discourse as I was invited to speak at a congressional hearing on that very issue. Thankfully for everyone, the right decision was made: access to scientific data was made available to all.
This was a pivotal moment in health care. It planted the seed that has been growing for the past 30+ years, allowing individuals to take control of their health and care by engaging in various remedies and practices as they see fit. The convergence of minds and ideas during that era laid the foundation for what we now see echoed in the field of culinary medicine/food is medicine, a powerful movement that empowers individuals to take charge of their well-being through the art of cooking and the science of nutrition.
Three decades after the inception of the CAM initiative, it’s remarkable to observe a parallel trajectory in the field of food is medicine. The movement bears striking similarities to the pioneering days of CAM, where physicians and practitioners ardently pursued knowledge and skills in alternative therapies. Just as medical professionals once sought to master acupuncture and herbal medicine, today’s health care experts are immersing themselves in the realm of culinary medicine.
Food is medicine, as the name suggests, places food at the forefront of healing. This emerging field envisions physicians not just as prescribers of medication but also as educators in nutrition and cooking techniques. Just as CAM practitioners aimed to bridge the gap between traditional medicine and holistic approaches, food is medicine proponents seek to integrate dietary wisdom with cooking skills and scientific understanding.
While many medical professionals initially engaged fervently with CAM practices, time constraints, and evolving roles led them to collaborate with dedicated practitioners in the field. Similarly, food is medicine’s trajectory will involve physicians guiding patients toward culinary expertise while also recognizing the value of collaboration with culinary professionals. The bridge between CAM’s holistic ethos and food is medicine’s patient empowerment lies in the understanding that what we choose to consume can be both healing and pleasurable.
Deb Kennedy is a chef and nutritionist.