2016 Get Local Party

Culinary Medicine Gains Momentum in Traverse City

January 28, 2018 |

Caption: Dr. David Eisenberg (second from the right), the keynote speaker at the Culinary Medicine conference, made an impression on Traverse City Dr. Charles Klettner, who considered Eisenberg’s speech to be a call to action. Photo by Gary Howe.

Grand Traverse Internal and Family Medicine (Grand Traverse Internists), a clinic in Traverse City’s medical district, plans to hire a part-time Registered Dietitian — in part because its doctors were inspired after attending a Culinary Medicine conference last September at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC).

The one-day conference, hosted by the Groundwork Center, Munson Healthcare, the Culinary Institute and the Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance, with funding support from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and Rotary of Traverse City, was billed, “Think Like a Chef, Cook Like a Dietitian, Eat Like a Local Farmer.” The impetus for the Culinary Medicine conference was that doctors typically learn little about nutrition, much less cooking, in medical school. Combining those topics with medicine is a trend that’s garnering headlines for Harvard Medical School with a conference it holds in California wine country, for Tulane University in food-rich New Orleans, and now here in Traverse City.

Dr. Charles Klettner and two of his Grand Traverse Internists colleagues came away from the conference convinced that nutrition needs to be elevated as an integral part of their patients’ treatment.

“I went back after the conference and told my partners, ‘you know that dietitian idea we threw around? I think we need to move forward with it’,” said Klettner. “Let’s get a dietitian to help our patients make better food choices and improve their overall health.”

In addition to nutrition and culinary skills, physicians and other health professionals gathered at the Culinary Medicine conference to learn about numerous local farm and food resources they can share with their patients. Family practice doctors and pediatricians affiliated with Munson are already writing prescriptions for their patients to eat fruits and vegetables, with coupons to use at farmers markets.

The conference also kicked into high gear Chip Hoagland’s plans for a culinary campus at the former Long Lake Elementary School. Hoagland (a member of Groundwork’s board of directors) owns Tamarack Holdings, a group of regional food enterprises that includes Cherry Capital Foods. He envisions a site for food-oriented events within the 45,000 square-foot building. Hoagland hopes the campus will be operational by Summer 2018.

The Long Lake Culinary Campus will also serve as a multi-use facility for potential partners including the Great Lakes Culinary Institute at NMC — and likely will include a full teaching kitchen, spaces for young and growing agribusiness ventures, and a retail store selling products that are manufactured on site.

Dr. David Eisenberg, director of culinary nutrition at the Harvard T. H Chan School of Public Health, gave the keynote address at the Culinary Medicine conference and said that he was impressed by what he saw here in Traverse City.

“You might just be the place that could invent the future for a healthy, resilient community,” Dr. Eisenberg said. “I came here with a prepared talk. But I think you (already) have all the puzzle pieces.”

Dr. Klettner of Grand Traverse Internists was struck by Eisenberg’s lecture, and considered the keynote a call to action.

“I thought his presentation was compelling. If physicians can obtain and model more food, nutrition, and culinary confidence, it can potentially translate into better patient care and outcomes.”

“Many of our patients face chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Food is a big part of that. You can tell someone to eat healthy, but not everyone has the time and resources to meet with a personal dietitian or chef. Being on the front end, if we can have a little bit of knowledge (about culinary medicine), we can help.”

Dr. Klettner was also inspired by Laura McCain, a Registered Dietitian at Munson Healthcare, who shared at the conference how she frequently pulls a wagon to Traverse City’s outdoor farmers market, buys fresh produce and does cooking demonstrations to show how patients can use coupons and food assistance to purchase vegetables.

“You’ve got an RD who’s also a chef, working together with the local farmers market and coming up with simple ideas to cook things so they’re more palatable and families will eat them. I thought, ‘what a great idea!’”

The Culinary Medicine conference also inspired Dr. Klettner to enroll in a class at NMC’s Culinary Institute, another co-host of the conference.

“I haven’t been on a college campus in many years, other than to visit my son at University of Michigan. My kids are giving me a hard time for ‘going back to school’,” Klettner laughed.

In addition to Grand Traverse Internists and the Long Lake Culinary Campus, the conference has had ripple effects throughout the community.

Jane Rapin and Michelle Smith, Program Instructors and Registered Dietitians with Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, facilitated a workshop session at the conference about Cooking Matters — a nutrition program where participants learn how to eat healthy, cook and grocery shop on a limited budget.

Largely as a result of that workshop session, at least four organizations in northwest Michigan have reached out to MSU Extension and expressed interest in hosting a Cooking Matters for Adults food and nutrition education course to be held at their sites. Those organizations are Munson Family Practice Center, Munson Healthcare Manistee Hospital, Kalkaska Memorial Health Center, and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, which has already hosted one Cooking Matters class and has scheduled a second one.

“What you eat really determines your health, fitness and size,” Minnie Wabanimkee, a tribal elder with the Grand Traverse Band who participated in the Cooking Matters class, wrote about her experience for the tribal paper, GTB News. “Cooking Matters helped me evaluate and know what I was putting into my body.”

The Groundwork Center, Munson Healthcare, the Great Lakes Culinary Institute and other partners hope to expand this culinary medicine work.

“Groundwork was pleased to help organize this first culinary medicine conference in the Grand Traverse region, and thrilled to see the enthusiastic response from so many medical professionals and healthcare providers,” said Groundwork food and farming program director Meghan McDermott. “By bringing this type of programming to Traverse City, we hope to foster a culture of health and nutrition in our region and also spread it across Michigan’s medical community throughout the state.”

The impact of Culinary Medicine continues to ripple. In late April, Groundwork Center food and farming consultant Paula Martin will update the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics about culinary medicine at the organization’s annual conference in Bay City.