Since early 2020, Massachusetts General Hospital’s Revere Food Pantry — located in the Mass General Revere HealthCare Center — has been serving about 80 patient families weekly with plant-based foods, oils, spices and cookware to help them prepare healthy meals at home. Now, thanks to funding from Mass General Brigham and research grants from the Ardmore Institute of Health and the Vitamix Foundation, the Food Pantry recently added a new teaching kitchen, enriching its recipe with an essential ingredient: culinary medicine.
“Today we honor one of our most sacred responsibilities as a society: that no family, no child, no person should face the injustice of hunger,” U.S. Rep Katherine Clark said at the teaching kitchen’s ribbon cutting on March 22, 2023. “Access to food is a fundamental human right and every day, this facility upholds that truth. We are already transforming the lives of 80 families every week. With this exciting expansion, I’m sure that number is going to grow.”
“The teaching kitchen is providing a venue to actually show our patients, families and kids in the Healthy Weight Clinic how to cook the foods we give them,” says Debbie Jacobson, Administrative Director of the MGH Revere HealthCare Center. “This is a great opportunity to both teach and educate.”
“Food is Medicine”
“In primary care, we know from decades of research that plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes are medicine for many chronic diseases. That’s why the vision we have at the MGH Revere Food Pantry will work,” says Jacob Mirsky, MD, MA, DipABLM, Medical Director of the MGH Revere Food Pantry. “It’s been amazing to hear about improvements from our patients who have started eating and cooking more plant-based foods at home, and now we’ll be able to conduct research to assess meaningful clinical outcomes.”
The teaching kitchen’s first patient-focused programming is part of a research grant from the Ardmore Institute of Health, an Oklahoma-based organization that provides funding for lifestyle medicine in the U.S. health system. The Ardmore grant is devoted to helping the food pantry adapt its proven pediatric and family healthy weight program, the Healthy Weight Clinic, designed by Lauren Fiechtner, MD’s team at Mass General for Children and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Institute for Childhood Healthy Weight. The Healthy Weight Clinic, recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics as one of the few evidenced-based programs for children who are overweight or experiencing obesity, will work alongside the teaching kitchen for families with food insecurity.
“Providing people with nutritious foods is a critical first step in establishing a healthy lifestyle and equipping them with the knowledge they need to prepare these foods in a delicious, healthy manner for their families. Those skills will last a lifetime,” says Ardmore Institute of Health Senior Vice President and COO Janet Calhoun. “Ardmore Institute of Health is thrilled to support Mass General’s Revere Food Pantry and its efforts to demonstrate the power of a lifestyle medicine approach to prevent, treat and reverse chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.”
A grant from the Vitamix Foundation is also helping the food pantry and Dr. Fiechtner, its research director, evaluate how plant-based food provisions have shifted health outcomes for patients. Dr. Fiechtner, who serves as the Director of Nutrition at Mass General for Children, will gauge the pantry’s impact over the past two years on blood sugar levels, blood pressure, anxiety, depression and weight gain in children. Those data will help inform clinicians how to better serve patients through resources like the teaching kitchen and culturally relevant recipes for Revere’s diverse population.
“The plant-based, high-quality food we’re distributing here thanks to the Greater Boston Food Bank is incredibly impressive,” Dr. Fiechtner says. “Now, we’ll be able to get the whole family together in the teaching kitchen. We’ll learn a lot about barriers and access to this food, and things we can do better thanks to these grant opportunities.”
“At the Vitamix Foundation, our vision is to enhance health and wellness through plant-based whole foods, and the MGH Revere Food Pantry has made remarkable strides in increasing access to these nutritious foods,” says Vitamix Foundation Executive Director Natalie A. Haynes. “We’re proud to support Dr. Fiechtner, Dr. Mirsky and the food pantry team as they measure their impact, establish best practices and create a model for other organizations — all driven by educating patients and providing them with the healthiest foods they can find.”
Skills That Will Last a Lifetime
By gearing the teaching kitchen toward families, the MGH Revere Food Pantry team hopes to build a strong foundation for children and their relationship to food, which will grow into healthy habits in adulthood.
The food pantry’s new permanent location at 300 Ocean Avenue in Revere and the teaching kitchen will make it possible to serve another 50 families, expanding its reach and continuing its mission to combat food insecurity and nutrition-dependent chronic diseases.
“I’m so proud our system is investing in making nutrition related diseases a thing of the past,” Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, Chief Community Health & Health Equity Officer, Mass General Brigham said at the ribbon cutting. “We start to do that by encouraging the work that’s happening and will continue to happen here in Revere — not just to increase access to food, but to promote nutrition security.”
“The food pantry has become a home to building innovative programming and getting at the root causes of disease, especially for vulnerable patient populations,” says Dr. Mirsky. “I’m grateful that this is a vision that’s been supported from the beginning. Everywhere I look, there’s been collaboration and enthusiasm.”