One of the trends coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a groundswell of momentum around “food as medicine” and how the food we eat can help boost our immunity and manage chronic diet-related conditions. All in a package that tastes good and is at the heart of our family, community, and cultural connections.
This trend – and I believe it’s a movement more than a trend – got high-level thought leadership attention at the recent Milken Institute 2020 Future of Health Summit, which convened the best minds in the world to confront the most significant health challenges of the day.
Representing our industry, I shared the role fresh fruits and vegetables can play in this “Food Is Medicine” (FIM) movement. The panel I was on explored how nutrition, specifically nutrition through food (not medicine or supplements), can be used to prevent and treat these conditions. Other participants in this session came from the U.S. Congress, a health-care provider, a major foundation’s food initiative, and a nonprofit advancing food justice and health equity.
I was honored to be a part of the Milken platform as it reaches many people and organizations that our industry may not typically reach. It’s vital that we are part of broader food-related conversations. Our members’ products are central to health and critical to culture, not to mention delicious. We must have a prominent seat at the table if we want our fruits and vegetables to occupy a prominent place on the plate.
This was an opportunity for us to show up in the world outside our own community. Produce is the key to optimal health and reversing the impact of disease. It’s also the connective tissue among society all over the world—it’s how we relate, it’s how we congregate, it’s cultural and emotional. It is the Joy of Fresh.
Ultimately, everyone needs to believe fruits and vegetables are the path to a full and vibrant life. And they need to take action on it. Fruit and vegetable consumption must be a habit, not episodic.
The panel explored programs proven to increase produce consumption, especially those that could be scaled for wider implementation and impact.
When asked about an example of successful partnerships, I shared the incredible work being done by our strategic partner Brighter Bites. They address hunger and food waste by ensuring surplus produce is routed to at-risk communities. Their recipient education materials drive long-term diet changes, and their research proves long-lasting health outcomes and impact.
This kind of work is critical, especially as the number of U.S. citizens who are food insecure in 2020 could rise to more than 50 million, including 17 million children.
Other aspects of the panel discussion included:
- In the FIM model, medically tailored meals, groceries, and food top treatment measures, while produce prescriptions straddle the line between prevention and treatment. Federal feeding programs are the basis of this model.
- Kaiser Permanente is working on the FIM pyramid, specifically building the business case for these programs in terms of both societal impact and costs.
- Social equity and impact is central to the FIM model. Healthy food is not a luxury, it’s a basic human right.
- Leveraging federal funding (i.e. the CARES Act) can help scale “prescriptions for produce” initiatives.
The good news is the produce industry has many allies outside of our core community. Our challenge – and opportunity – is to connect with them to create transformational change.
At its core, this was an opportunity to represent PMA members and our industry and to share what we’re hearing back them. We want to help everyone within and outside our industry bubble create strategies and tactics to grow their businesses, to create solutions that ultimately increase the prosperity of our members in the long term. It’s a quintessential moment for the world and I’m excited to be representing our industry in that way.
As I’ve said, I don’t want to get to a “new normal.” I want what comes next to be the “new extraordinary” and to build that in partnership with our members. But not just our members – I would include everyone outside our membership who is committed to advancing produce consumption as the solution to a healthy, vibrant life for all people. And let me include floral here as well. Although this panel was focused solely on food, we know that floral products are also essential to our wellbeing.
We’ve never had this kind of cultural convergence. Our commitment at PMA is to continue to look for places to represent our members, to see things differently, to explore opportunities to partner and collaborate with others, and ultimately to build a healthier world.
COVID-19 gave us visceral, undisputed truth about the impact of food as medicine, and the opportunity surrounding this movement is very powerful.
We must ingrain the belief that the simplest – and most important – thing a person can do to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. This must become a sustaining multi-generational practice and not just a fleeting fad.
Our industry’s opportunity is now.