December 7, 2021

Food is Medicine

Everyone knows that a healthy diet is one of the best forms of preventative medicine. Diabetes and high blood pressure are two of our most common diagnoses at CommunityHealth, and both conditions are significantly impacted by the food an individual eats.

A proper diet can also boost your memory, reduce your risk of cancer, improve your sleep, and help your mood (anyone who’s ever been “hangry” can tell you that much). By the same measure, food insecurity has enormous repercussions in every aspect of one’s life: not only will malnourishment affect eyesight, hinder bone development, and impair cognitive function, but the additional stress of not knowing where one’s next meal will come from is a devastating burden. Many of us take food for granted; after all, it is a basic necessity to sustain life. However, in reality, poverty bars millions of Americans from accessing proper nourishment.

CommunityHealth has long been aware of food’s tremendous significance to overall health. Because our patient population is entirely made up of low-income residents of Chicago, we know that access to healthy food is not always a guarantee. Around 26% of CommunityHealth patients self-report that they struggle to buy food. Produce is expensive, recipes can be daunting, and cheap, ready-made meals are an especially tempting option after a grueling day of work at minimum wage. For diabetic patients healthy eating is both a necessity and a challenge. We believe in quality health care for all, and care for our patients’ diets is an important aspect of holistic and preventative health care.

For more than a decade, CommunityHealth has offered cooking classes to our patients, demonstrating how to make healthy, delicious recipes with affordable ingredients. Furthermore, patients can choose to take culturally-specific cooking classes at CommunityHealth, which feature recipes that utilize traditional ingredients of Polish and Mexican cuisines. At the end of each class, patients receive a food bag with which to replicate the recipes at home. Unfortunately, our food preparation classes have been temporarily halted due to COVID-19 concerns (though we did post over 30 nutrition/food prep videos to our Youtube channel).

However, the hunger crisis did not pause for the pandemic; unsurprisingly, the pandemic greatly exacerbated the already-immense problem of hunger in the United States. Before 2020, over 35 million people struggled with food insecurity. By December of 2020, that number shot up to about 81 million. During what some are calling “America’s year of hunger,” families with children suffered the most, specifically Black families, who went hungry at 3 times the rate of white families. Though access to healthy food, or any food at all, is deeply tied to both physical and mental health, many Americans have no choice but to go without quality meals, especially when faced with unemployment, steep rent, and non-stop bills. In a tragic illustration of the failure of American health care, a recent study shows that 1 in 8 Americans has had to reduce food spending specifically in order to cover health care costs.

With in-person cooking classes on hiatus, in 2020 CommunityHealth looked into other ways to feed our patients. Throughout the year, CommunityHealth partnered with Greater Chicago Food Depository and other local grocery outlets to distribute over 600 emergency food boxes, as well as a total of $1800 in Instacart vouchers. We continue to connect our patients with food bank services, and we’re happy to provide them with food directly whenever we can.

Next week, on December 14th, CommunityHealth at Onward House will give out 100 holiday meals, thanks to our partners at Top Box and our sponsors at Hill Rom. If you know anyone in need of a holiday dinner, please tell them to stop by 5423 W Diversey Ave! The event will take place from 10am to 12pm. The first 100 people to arrive will receive a whole ham or chicken, as well as a box of fresh produce!

No one should be without food, especially around the holidays. We appreciate the donors and partners who help us feed our patients, and we look forward to continuing our food preparation classes in 2022!