Making an Impact: How Chefs and Hospitals Use Food as Medicine.

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What is the distinction between helping individuals and helping entire communities? In this episode of Add Passion and Stir, Debbie Shore talks to Michellene Davis, Esq., Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for RWJBarnabas Health, and celebrity chef Rahman “Rock” Harper about hunger, healthcare, and the vicious cycle of poverty. Both guests see the importance of thinking outside traditional provision of service. Davis works to make structural changes to healthcare delivery in America. “It is not just about the patients and the families that we treat in our hospitals, it’s also about the communities that we serve and vulnerable populations within those communities,” she says. Chef Harper served on the Board of DC Central Kitchen, which provides culinary job training programs along with meals to the community. Harper notes that the 80% job placement and greatly reduced rate of recidivism in their trainees begins to break the cycle of poverty. “It’s fulfilling work, because … when you see the breakthrough, the liberation, that’s when you feel great…to know you can affect another human being’s life and in turn they can affect yours. We can change the world if we apply that viewpoint,” says Harper.

Davis is helping to transform the way RWJBarnabas – a major health care system located in New Jersey – thinks about health outside of just healthcare. “[Healthcare] such a small component of a person’s experience. What about the places where people work, live, play, age? Are we ensuring that folks are living in environments that are sustainable and healthy?,” she asks. She highlights some of the programs and commitments her organization is making to ensure healthy communities. For example, they had an urban greenhouse initiative coupled with a community wellness center that was not immediately successful. After analyzing the situation, they realized the initiative was in a community that relies on the SNAP program but did not accept SNAP vouchers. “That’s like placing it in the heart of their home but saying ‘don’t touch this,’” she says. As a result, not only did they became the first hospital-affiliated greenhouse in the country to accept the vouchers but they worked with policy-makers to set up a system where urban greenhouses and farmers markets would automatically enroll people in WIC and SNAP. “This is a platform issue for us because it affects the health outcomes of these children for generations to come.” Chef Harper is impressed with RWJBarnabas’ approach. “When an organization can ask themselves these tough questions or be 100% objective, that’s extremely valuable,” he says.

Hear about the powerful personal stories of these two change-makers, as well as their ideas about working at the intersection of helping individuals and strengthening communities to help them succeed.

Resources and Mentions:

Michellene Davis

The Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for RWJBarnabas Health. She leads Social Impact and Community Investment across the System. She oversees the areas of Policy Development and Governmental and External Affairs, Healthy Living and Community and Employee Wellness and Engagement, and Global Health. She is the creator of the RWJBarnabas Health Women’s Leadership Alliance and Institute for Corporate Internship. Davis helps to direct the strategic policy decisions of the System and strengthens the System’s position with state and federal elected officials and agencies. She joined Barnabas Health in 2009, and soon after was named Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs, the first woman and first person of color to serve as an Executive Vice President in the Barnabas Health system’s history. Before joining Barnabas Health, Davis served as Chief Policy Counsel to former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, the first African American to serve in the role, and Acting New Jersey State Treasurer. Prior to Treasury, Davis led the $2.4 billion New Jersey Lottery as Executive Director and CEO and served as a senior policy advisor in the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. She began her legal career as a trial litigator, is an Honors graduate of Seton Hall University and holds a Juris Doctorate from Seton Hall School of Law.

Rahman “Rock” Harper

President of RockSolid Creative Food Group, LLC. An American chef, television personality, and restaurateur, he won the third season of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. In 2010, he published the book, 44 Things Parents Should Know about Healthy Cooking for Kids. He has been the National Celebrity Chef for the March of Dimes since 2008. He was also the director of kitchen operations and chef instructor for DC Central Kitchen.

No Kid Hungry

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

Root Cause Coalition

The Root Cause Coalition is a national, member-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of health disparities by focusing on hunger and other social determinants leading to nationwide epidemic of preventable chronic health conditions.

RWJBarnabas Health

New Jersey’s largest integrated health care delivery system, providing treatment and services to more than three million patients each year. Dedicated to serving the people of New Jersey, they support community programs that promote health and wellness and provide access to services that would otherwise be unavailable. They are committed to the ongoing improvement of the health, quality of life and vitality of residents in New Jersey—whether that be enhancing the coordination for treating complex health conditions or improving community health through local programs and education. Their partnership with Rutgers University created the state’s largest academic healthcare system dedicated to providing high-quality patient care, leading-edge research, and world-class health and medical education that will transform and advance healthcare in New Jersey.

DC Central Kitchen

Mission is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities. As the nation’s first and leading community kitchen, DC Central Kitchen develops and operates social ventures targeting the cycle of hunger and poverty. They fight hunger differently by training jobless adults for culinary careers and then hiring dozens of their own graduates to prepare the 3 million meals they provide for homeless shelters, schools, and nonprofits each year. They also prevent the waste of millions of pounds of nutritious food, expand access to healthy, local options in urban food deserts, and scale their model nationally through strategic partnerships with colleges and universities.

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