To Your Health: Culinary and Medical Worlds Team Up At Goldring Center
Choosing, cooking and savoring food in the spirit of preventive health care is the mission of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine in Mid-City. There, Chef Leah Sarris, Dr. Tim Harlan and a team of Johnson & Wales culinary students are reviving traditional knowledge to reconnect the concepts of eating and health, sharing it with the community and tracking the results.
When I walk through the doors of the Center, I am impressed with its size: three rows of prep tables, ovens and ranges equal huge potential. The kitchens are buzzing with culinary students handing aprons to medical students. They are attentively listening to local chefs, who are directing them to prepare for an upcoming training. Caterers will arrive tomorrow to learn ways to tailor menus for gluten-free, diabetic and vegan clients.
“We want everyone who comes here to develop so much nutrition knowledge and cooking competency that they change their habits and attitudes about what’s healthy,” explains Chef Sarris. Her vision is becoming a reality. The Center offers free health education in the form of hands-on cooking classes for medical students, patients and local community members.
The results of this simple yet profound preventive health care are astounding. As the first initiative of its kind to offer evidence-based research, the Center can make the case for culinary medicine education. The Center recently published its findings, compiled with support from Tulane Research Fellow Dominique Monlezun, in The Journal of Medicine and the Person.
For the past two years, Monlezun and the Center’s team have conducted Cooking for Health Optimization with Patients (CHOP). CHOP is an umbrella for the cohort studies and randomized controlled trials for patients and medical professionals. Under the umbrella, the Center assesses the health of over 10,000 participants both before and after attending a series of cooking classes.
“One woman who recently graduated from a course had just cooked her first meal for her husband after 50 years of marriage” Chef Sarris recounts. Not only is the Center changing people’s lives by teaching them how to cook, but it is also impacting their long-term health by showing them that food can be medicine. Diabetic patients are reducing their medication and overweight patients are dropping pounds.
When people step away from the industrial food system and take time to prepare and savor more wholesome, local food, they feel better, lose weight and reduce their number of annual visits to the doctor’s office. Ongoing six-session class series offer a compendium of knowledge, hands-on skills and recipes. From healthy breakfasts and packable lunches to simple snacks and quick dinners, students gain “food as medicine” skills that are replicable and delicious.
“The relational aspect of hands-on cooking education is essential to success,” Monlezun says. Because everyone cooks and eats together, learning comes through experience and mutual support. To provide equitable access to wholesome, fresh food for all, the Center is collaborating with the ReFresh Project. This initiative connects health access, cooking education and gardening in an innovative web of support and empowerment.
The Center’s medical and culinary students will become doctors and chefs who educate their staff and patients. Community members who attend these series will teach friends and family to savor simple food prepared with care, and more people will be able to change their diets in a way that promotes their health.