Community As Medicine

By Cherrelyn Seegers

In my last two articles you have read what I have had to say about using food as medicine, and I hope that the information has been helpful and educational for you. This edition of the Muse is focused upon community, and it comes at a perfect time, because in the doldrums of winter we need to be reminded to extract ourselves from our comfortable hibernation and seek out community.

To inter-relate the topic of community and nutrition is of great interest to me. I remember when the discussion first began on the French diet. When dissecting their nutrient intake composed of rich sauces, breads, fatty meats, and the coinciding habits of wine and cigarettes, it would seem that they would score very low on an index of overall health. Thus the reason that it is referred to as the French Paradox.

The French Paradox began as a study to find out how the French could consume a diet high in saturated fats and still have significantly lower coronary heart disease (CHD) risks. It has branched out from the possible benefits (or at least non-existing negative side effects of the saturated fats), to the beneficial intake of red wine and it’s contents of resveratrol and polyphenols and their anti-oxidant effect on CHD, to finally the fact that the French consume less processed foods and the overall health benefits of that.

Buried in that literature, there is small mention of something that in my mind stands out as a major factor, and that is community and the pleasure that exists from sharing meals with community. I came upon a term recently that caused one of those fist pumping, “YES!” moments. The term is social capital, and to my surprise the term is not new.

Psychologists have been using it for many years when looking at the influencing factors on mental health and well being. In my own words, I will define it for you with this equation:

SOCIAL NETWORKS + SOCIAL PARTICIPATION + TRUST + RECIPROCITY = SOCIAL CAPITAL

Social capital influences overall health by way of reduced stress, happiness and pleasure. Think back to Alana Simler’s article (What’s Your Deal) on stress and its effects on health. Now let’s take this concept and expand out to social capital in the realm of how we nourish ourselves.

I think back to when I was a kid growing up in rural Colorado in the 70’s and 80’s. We lived on a small farm, and although we did not grow all of our food by any means, we had a large garden that lasted from late spring to early fall, and my mom would can and freeze the produce to last us during the winter. It took family involvement to keep and harvest the garden, to feed and care for the animals, collect the eggs, and periodically butcher chickens.

I remember sitting at the table chatting with my parents and/or siblings while snapping beans, learning the parts of the chicken as my dad took it apart as if it were science class. Most of all I remember that it was simply routine that we helped with dinner prep and clean up, and that rarely was there a family member missing from the table. We had conversation, shared our day, ate hearty meals, yet none of us was overweight. The same was true for my peers and their families.

So, in my youth, a lot of my social capital grew from family. However, as an adult and a mom in today’s world of children’s sports and activity schedules, our family has to work hard to hold tightly to the family dinner. We do because it is tradition, we slow down, we listen, we eat good, home cooked food, and we leave the table truly nourished.

But what about those who live alone, far from family, or whose children are grown and gone? Community nourishment maybe hard to come by.

How about harnessing the power of your community? The power doesn’t have to come by way of large numbers. Start with a few friends and perhaps have each friend invite someone whom is unknown by the group, perhaps someone who you know dines alone.

This can be a simple potluck type of dinner, taking into account each other’s dietary restrictions, or you can put a little more planning and intention into it and have a planned topic of discussion for the meal. Each person might throw an idea of discussion into a hat at the first meal, and everyone draws a subject and prepares questions or fun facts on the subject. There can be themes to the meals, an exchange of recipes, as well as making a double batch of your item and everyone bringing a container to take home another serving of the meal for the next day. Be as creative as you want!

NOW BEWARE: It is easy to read this and say, “I don’t have time” or “Someone else will take this on,” but remember that social participation means shared effort, means less stress, increased well being and rich social capitol.

So, let’s say yes to the healing power of community!

Cherrelyn Seegers is a Doctor of Chiropractic, practicing in Bellingham, Wa. She practices 360 degree health care, meaning partially physical medicine, and partially functional medicine with integrated nutrition. Although Dr. Seegers has been a life long athlete, she understands the challenge of both musculoskeletal and physiological health challenges from first hand experience. She has practiced in Bellingham for 17 years after graduating from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon.

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