Feature Stories Spring 2017 Issue

Bridging the Food Insecurity Gap: Healthy Community Kitchen

By Francie Szostak Dekker | Photo By Healthy Community Kitchen website 0

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for all people, especially those battling cancer, recovering from a surgery or living with a chronic disease like diabetes. But when suffering from a major illness and facing food insecurity, healthy eating can often be even harder to achieve.

After working as a registered nurse for many years, Tina La Haise recognized there was a large nutrition-shaped gap in our healthcare system that was especially inequitable for those who could not pay for private help. Inspired by an organization her son was working for in California, La Haise began a program in Madison called Healthy Community Kitchen that offers free and low-cost meals for up to 12 weeks to people experiencing a health crisis, such as cancer, heart failure, stroke or complications from diabetes.

The Healthy Community Kitchen staff.

Healthy Community Kitchen meals are 100 percent organic and locally sourced as much as possible from area farmers and the UW-Madison Agricultural Resource Center, which donates fresh produce. In addition to delivering meals, education is a major component of the Healthy Community Kitchen program. “While working in healthcare, too many times I witnessed patients handed a piece a paper with ways to eat better but with no accompanying education,” said La Haise. “Patients were left asking, what is this food? Where do I get it? How do I cook it? When we deliver meals, we let people taste-test different things and have them cook and prepare with us as much as they are able.”

After officially launching in March 2016, HCK has since prepared 3,337 meals for 80 individuals. The majority of their clients are the families of young mothers who are battling a major illness but who still need to provide meals for their families. “We recently worked with a woman diagnosed with colon cancer,” said La Haise. “She had two young kids and was all-in for changing their diet and lifestyle. She really absorbed all the education we provided and wanted to prepare everything herself once she had energy. I recently checked back and she had since stopped chemo, kept eating well, and her last scan came back negative.”

While there is no scientific research to suggest that switching to certain foods is a cure for any health condition, the old adage “you are what you eat” makes a lot of sense, especially in light of the personal experiences shared by so many. As Hippocrates said long ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Francie Szostak Dekker is thrilled to be contributing to Edible Madison through a Food Writing Fellowship with The Culinary Trust. She is a regular contributor for Edible Milwaukee and also serves as the Milwaukee County UW-Extension Nutrition Education Program Coordinator. When not volunteering as a Wisconsin Master Gardener, Francie can be found enjoying all the local food, live music and outdoor activities that southern Wisconsin offers.

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