Giving Compass' Take:

• Jeffrey Zufrosky, culinary director of Newport Academy, shares how the act of eating can be healing for people coping with trauma or obsessions related to food. 

• How can philanthropy get involved in the 'meals as medicine' movement? Should we reframe healthy eating as a mental health solution?

• Healing through food also extends into community development initiatives. 

For the better part of a decade, medical schools at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts, among others, have been studying how nutritious food can function like medicine. Medical doctors at clinics in Houston and Miami write fruit and vegetable prescriptions for patients.

The thinking behind this approach is that helping patients to eat healthier will ward off diseases that are directly linked to diet, like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.

But what’s still ahead, and yet to be fully explored, is the notion that food, and the very rituals of eating, could also have the power to heal afflictions of the mind. It’s not just that food can affect and change emotions, he says, but that the entire act of eating, the physical process—farm to table in the most literal sense—can be analogous to the trauma healing process.

Jeffrey Zurofsky, Newport’s culinary director, even has a name for the approach: the meal as medicine.

Newport Academy treats adolescents and young adults aged 12 to 20 with primary psychiatric disorders, most commonly anxiety and depression. Many of them have experienced suicide ideation, or attempted suicide before, according to Monroe.

For those who do arrive for treatment, the meal can be a crucial part of the therapeutic plan. Staff say it’s an opportunity for patients to begin learning where their anxiety around eating comes from. Newport patients, like so many Americans, are fixated on what’s on their plate. People need to know exactly what they are putting into their bodies, and to believe it is healthy. There’s a name for that obsession: orthorexia. Other patients suffering from disordered eating go a different way, and eat only fast food, because the familiarity creates a kind of safe space for them.

Read the full article about meals as medicine by Sam Bloch at The New Food Economy.