Food as Medicine

I had a remarkable discovery the other day at City Market. It started when I spotted a lady in aisle 2 holding two different brands of coconut oil. Clearly, she was trying to decide which to purchase. As she asked for some assistance from a worker passing by, the two got to talking. From overhearing their conversation, I learned that coconut oil is stocked not only in aisle 2 with other products for ethnic foods, but also in the health & wellness department. I headed over to health & wellness, and sure enough coconut oil was there.

After the lady left, I went up to Sam (the employee helping the lady) and asked why it’s stocked in two different departments. He explained that coconut oil’s one of the most versatile products, for it can be used internally and topically, therefore it is a prominent feature in body care and a lot of ethnic cuisine. Sam said that City Market has it in a couple of locations to cater to the customers needs, “to give those folks looking to use it in food and those folks looking to use it on hair an easier time locating it”.

After talking to Sam, I learned that there’s really no difference in the coconut oil stocked in the wellness department and in the grocery department– both are organic and unrefined. This sparked a broader thought about food and how its function is socially constructed. Generally speaking, as a society we see our “food” as separate from our “medicine”. But is it really? Is it possible that Hippocrates was onto something when he said “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine thy food”?

Does stocking the same food product in multiple departments remind people how versatile certain products can be? Or does it reaffirm the notion that our “food” should be separate from our “medicine”? What if grocery stores didn’t have a health & wellness department because everything sold genuinely contributed to our health and well-being? Which raises its own question: why are we selling things that aren’t good for us?

In City Market’s case, they sell a range of conventional products because they are the only grocery store downtown. Therefore, they have a contract with the city stating they’ll carry a certain number of conventional products to help out different types of people in town.

The coconut oil encounter led to a greater discovery that left me questioning how conventional medicine has gotten so far from the notion that food can treat and prevent many of our ailments. With more people on prescription medication due to increased diagnosis’ of chronic illnesses and serious diseases, our pharmaceutical industry is growing — meaning we’re actually getting sicker. At the same time, we have a food system that values highly processed, packaged, nutrient-deficient food that undoubtably contributes to overall poor health. There’s no question that as a society we could benefit from embracing the “food as medicine” philosophy, for it would inevitably place greater value on fresh, wholesome, nutrient rich foods. The question is, how do we do it? What kind of regulations, paradigm shits, etc. would need to occur?

FN 3/26

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4 Comments on “Food as Medicine”

  1. Teresa Mares
    March 27, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    I left this link for another student, but I really enjoyed your post and I think you would be interested in this reading as well!

    Ristovski-Slijeocevic, Svetlana, Gwen E. Chapman, and Brenda L. Beagan
    2008 Engaging with Health Eating Discourse(s): Ways of Knowing About Food and Health in Three Ethnocultural Groups in Canada. Appetite 50: 127-178.

  2. cookingandobserving
    March 28, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    Wow! This was a fascinating read that I’m sure to re-visit again, there’s so much to digest! I fully agree that health behaviors need to be seen in the larger context of influences that contribute to ‘well-being’ that may be even broader than current social determinants of health of concern.

    For example, “the ways that people choose, prepare and eat their food need to be seen in the broader context of socially and culturally constructed ways of life with respect to family and community relationships, orientations, to work, stress, and pleasure, so that the interdependence of socially and culturally influenced perceptions, behavior, and health is considered” — I think this really get’s at the heart of what I was trying to say in my post, for the more we broaden the context, the more the interdependence of our perceptions surrounding food, behavior and health come to light, and thus, the more likely people are to understand the notion of “food as medicine” and hopefully incorporate into their lives. On a similar note, I appreciate that they mentioned that the management of health through healthy eating included individual responsibility not only for one’s obeservable food practices but also prevention of potential risks to one’s future health.

  3. Anonymous
    April 3, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    You are what you eat… I couldn’t agree more with this post. Life needs to be balanced; between work and school and play there needs to be an equilibrium. Thus if the body is the vessel for life you need to balance the foods and nutrients you eat.

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