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UArizona pilot program sending medical students into the kitchen

Posted at 7:32 AM, Nov 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-01 15:03:00-04

PHOENIX — A culinary medicine pilot program through the University of Arizona is giving new doctors the practical skills to put their medical advice where their mouth is. The program will also build upon existing community projects across the state including the Regional Center for Border Health, a network of 30 rural health clinics along the Arizona-Mexico border, and the Maricopa County Chef in the Garden program through the Blue Watermelon project, a program that aims to bring gardens into schools and support underserved high school culinary students.

Fourth-year medical students from U-Arizona's School of Medicine in Phoenix, as well as medical schools from around the country, are moving out of the classroom and into the kitchen. After learning about the critical role food and nutrition play in overall health, they learn practical skills of how to cook with those foods.

"Understanding how the food that you eat and how to prepare it can actually be used to treat, prevent and reverse the diseases of our time." said the founding director of the program Dr. Shad Marvasti.

He says the goal is to be able to start prescribing food along with medication prescriptions and teaching patients how to care for their bodies holistically. Using a $750,000 grant from Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare organization based in Denmark, he's working to expand the university's curriculum and develop much-needed resources for medically underserved and rural communities across Arizona.

Chef Sasha Raj, who owns a vegan and vegetarian restaurant in the Valley, is mentoring the students in the kitchen.

"It's very easy to say, eat more fruits and vegetables. But it's even more wonderful to say, this is how I enjoy them and maybe you'll enjoy it too." said Raj.

She believes by getting hands-on with cooking, future doctors will be more credible and relatable when they talk to patients about nutrition. They also learn that flavor doesn't have to be sacrificed with healthier recipes.

The cooking class takes place at VH Lassen Elementary in south Phoenix which is an area considered to be a food desert with limited healthy resources. The next goal of this two-year pilot program is to have the medical students teach what they've learned in the class and the kitchen to the community, including students and parents.