That is my sense, as I write this letter on a plane home from the 2nd Annual Food Is Medicine Summit in Vail, hosted by Manna Tree Partners. Nutrition for longevity was the key topic among the gathered leaders, and views ranged from what you eat, to education, to the reality that 1 in 5 deaths are related to our diet. Opinions ranged from optimistic to fearful.
First a hopeful real-life perspective shared by Brent Drever, one of the extraordinary partners at Manna Tree. The story is one of hope and perspective. Brent shared that when his wife was 32 years old, the picture of health, she woke up one day and was numb from the waist down. After weeks of doctor appointments and specialists she was diagnosed with MS and a treatment course recommended. The doctor said the treatment would leave her with “flu like” symptoms 2-3 days every week. As Brent shared, his wife told the doctors that was not an option and opted for a different treatment approach to let her diet be the foundation for her treatment. She moved to a plant-based diet and within 3-4 months was in remission. Three children later she is the picture of health. A few more hopeful takes: Robert Jones, CEO of Roots Food Group, is helping reverse Type 2 Diabetes through their prescription medically- tailored meal program; and Scott Bowman, Co-founder, and Co-chair, of the Nourish Movement, an organization connecting innovators and their innovations to empower human health through food, sustainably. Food is Medicine is one solution to some of the toughest health challenges we face. Leaders like Neka Pasquale, Founder of Urban Remedy, and Matthew Padilla, Director of Culinary and Innovation at True Food Kitchen shared their why and their favorite foods- herbs, and Matthew, Kale, respectively. (Two of Gardenuity’s best-selling gardens.)
Still, conversations were abundant about the concerns of where global health is going and this concern is sparking new companies and products everywhere. When it comes to concerns about longevity and health, I couldn’t help but think that ultimately the choices of what we eat are up to us. And, education and understanding are key. (Albeit one speaker made the comment that “education does not work”; I whole-heartedly disagree with this statement and have seen first-hand how educators and education change lives.)
One comment that I have shared from the summit with anyone who will listen is, “It is not what is in the food, it is what has been done to the food”. Thought-provoking on many levels. Ultra-processed foods are only cheap when the costs of their negative metabolic impact are externalized to health care and public health budgets.
The topic, “Authenticity in Ingredients”, was covered and is a good conversation starter at any gathering. It will bring a lot of different options to the conversation. When we think about Authenticity in Ingredients, growing a scalable product with integrity, stories shared by Russell Diez-Canseco, President & CEO of Vital Farms are worth noting. “Honest food, ethically produced, with no bullsh*t. Vital Farm’s commitment to their “girls” (hens) is impressive. Each hen has 108 square feet of pasture with lots of fresh air, fresh grass, and sunshine. Their promise to giving their “girls” a lifestyle of freedom to forage through pastures, feasting on natural grass ensures the hens are healthier, happier, resulting in better eggs for you and me.
When it comes to concerns about how nutrition should be regulated, how to ensure schools are providing nutritious meals to our children, or how to keep consumers informed about what is in the foods they are eating, everyone will need to play a part in the solution. What role should fall on the food retailers? On the restaurants? One reason we may be getting push back from businesses is the fear of business-as-usual disruption.
Another conversation was about “Modern Medicine is reactive, not proactive.” Panelists and guests discussed the idea that we must address the underlying process of aging and diseases, not individually but collectively.
What did the leaders, panelists, guests of the day have in common? They were focused and committed to making people healthier through nutrition. They were committed to changing the trajectory of human health globally. They had a common sense of commitment. Commitment is a word we use daily but rarely think about its true meaning. Commitment: The state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. An engagement or obligation. From the Latin committere, to unite, connect, combine; to bring together. The people at the summit were passionate about the cause and each embraced the challenges associated with making people healthier through nutrition.
Throughout the summit I kept thinking about how Gardenuity and gardening has the potential to empower health. How even a container garden of seasonal herbs can really impact health. Gardening, digging in the soil, harvesting your own fresh flavors is fueling healthier habits. Research has proven this time and time again. It can help us change behaviors, serve as a great teacher, recipe enhancer, and conversation starter. Gardening can empower lasting sustainable change and I could not be more excited about being part of the group that is growing the next generation of health enthusiasts.
So this is what I learned. We cannot selectively choose to be healthy; we can’t turn off the realities around us. Manna Tree, along with those at the summit and those globally who are working to bring better nutrition options to all of us need to be heard. It is exciting to see them working alongside the medical community, technology companies, pharmaceutical groups, and educators. The Manna Tree leaders are shaping a better future for all of us. Their dedication to improving human health through nutrition was witnessed by all who were part of the conversation in Vail.