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Plant Powered Metro NY's Community-Based Health Empowerment Networks: Chronic Disease Prevention & Reversal with Whole Plant Foods

Communities liberated from chronic illness through local networks that create demand for a healthy, plant-centric food system

Photo of Lianna Levine Reisner
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Plant Powered Metro New York

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

New York City

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

New York metropolitan area, including the five boroughs of NYC and nearby counties in NY and NJ

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The NY metro area is a place where progressive, critical ideas can take root and then serve as a bridge and beacon for other places around the country and the world. As a resident of Manhattan, I began to organize my own networks within this borough and built strong relationships with other volunteers who had similar work and a shared mission in other parts of the metro area -- the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, and Nassau County. We came together in early 2019 to create a stronger platform for our work through one, network-oriented organization that could serve as a connector, catalyst, and resource for this region in the science and practice of whole food, plant-based nutrition. Now we are empowering more people to develop hyperlocal place-based networks through which new ideas and behaviors can take root, all linked to our wider, metropolitan network. These actors include not only the volunteer force we're building but also the individual clinicians, culinary experts, clinics, businesses, and others who -- taken all together -- are part of the ecosystem for overthrowing the systems that make us sick and dependent.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The New York metro area is a place of rich and diverse culinary experiences, the vast majority of which are rooted in healthy plant-based traditions that have been overridden by American norms of consumption vis-a-vis animal foods and processed ingredients. Our region is not immune to the chronic disease epidemic that plagues all of America. While there is recognition of the value of fresh produce for all -- with farmer's markets, bodegas, and fruit vendors abounding, alongside some incentives for those in poverty to access them -- access continues to be uneven, and there is little recognition in the mainstream that other foods are promoting our collective illness. We cannot merely add in health-promoting food; we also must subtract inflammatory foods. Our ever-present food culture and the social dynamics of eating in this area are contributing to the challenges. In our region, we also have a great diversity of experience between and within urban and suburban paradigms. As an example, New York City boroughs are not monolithic; each neighborhood has a different look and feel, different languages, resources, places of gathering, and food norms. With that in mind, if we want to change the food culture, create demand for plant-centric foods, grow understanding of health-promoting nutrition, and change behaviors on the community level, we need strategies and leaders to meet people where they are to bring them along the path of chronic disease prevention and reversal. That is the stage on which PPMNY's network was developed, seeking to engage people of all backgrounds as messengers and catalysts to the communities they know best, allowing their friends, neighbors, and family members to develop new awareness and habits for health and healing. Many of the people involved as leaders are those who have themselves reversed or significantly reduced the impact of one or more chronic diseases and who have deep passion in ensuring that the people around them are able to experience life in the best way possible.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Currently, the NY metro area food system is similar to other big cities, dominated by nutrition norms that are outdated and incapable of promoting health. We may have a local farm system that provides sustainably grown options, but that is small when compared to the primary levers that feed our region. As we move into the future, the biggest threat to all -- whether local or global -- is the lack of environmental stewardship and responsibility to sustain our animal-centric diet. Whatever is best for human health is also best for our watersheds, farmland, air quality, and the planet at large; this fractal relationship can teach us so much about how to create a healthy, sustainable food system. The challenge for us is to prevent further calamities in public and environmental health by earnestly and rapidly moving toward a plant-centric diet that recognizes the beauty, flavors, and nutrient-density of plants in their whole form.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Plant Powered Metro New York's community-based health empowerment networks are designed to create demand for foods that truly nourish us and our earth. Too many people are going through life believing that chronic diseases are inevitable and that the best we can do with Western medicine is to manage those diseases with medications and procedures. The purpose of our networks is to create a new narrative and practice around health through food, ushering in a new paradigm and relationship between people and our food system. Average people must understand that what we eat deeply affects our health and can even modify gene expression. Our theory of change is as follows: Individual people are profoundly impacted by their health and, out of self-interest, will seek to adopt healthy behaviors when given both critical information and lifestyle support to experiment with and maintain new behaviors. PPMNY works from a theory that average people will change their dietary habits with: - Repeated exposure to new ideas and knowledge that challenge their assumptions of what constitutes a healthy diet and a healthy body, - Trusting relationships with people who have changed their diets and improved their health and well-being, including those people who have some standing or power in their lives (like clergy members and elected officials), and - Sufficient instruction on how to eat differently, in a way that makes the change feel achievable. Our long-term strategy involves building a culture of health around community hubs, testing the theory that whole food, plant-based nutrition can be successfully adopted by wide swaths of a single community when provided with the above inputs and with multiple community-based partners at the table. In practice, our networks today are providing the following in both English and Spanish: - Countless opportunities for education on the science and "how-to's" of whole food, plant-based nutrition, including lectures, interactive talks, and culinary and meal prep demos, all in the context of community building - Group support formats to build new habits, taste preferences, and skills among neighbors and families - Lifestyle mentorship either 1:1 or in small groups linking knowledgeable laypeople with those seeking to build and maintain new food habits - Intensive health empowerment programs like "jumpstarts" that get a cohort of people started with a 10- to 30-day program offering education, mentorship, culinary demos, and social support - Many other formats for engagement are being developed in response to the needs bubbling out of each hyperlocal network. The future will involve branching out in multiple languages and cultures.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We envision our communities liberated from illness through the widespread adoption of a health-promoting and ecologically-sound plant-based diet. In our ideal future, healthy food will abound and will be accessible to all. Food providers from restaurants to caterers will understand that their role is to provide nourishment along with positive social experiences, and that one need not compromise the other. Parents will understand the levers of health such that they can create healthy havens and instill essential eating behaviors in their children from early on. Chronic disease rates will fall to record lows, and not only physical health but mental health will be significantly impacted. With improved physical and mental health, individuals will be more capable to contribute their time and talents to community life, building life-giving organizations and schools and allowing people to self-actualize. The societal benefits of improving our food system toward optimal human health will be enormous without the burden of chronic illness in all its forms -- and for all residents regardless of their age, stage, or background.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Plant Powered Metro New York is catalyzing the local movement for vibrant health through whole food, plant-based (WFPB) nutrition. Growing scientific evidence reveals that optimal human health can be achieved by eating predominantly whole plant foods, which involves minimizing or eliminating animal products and refined or processed foods including added oils and sugars, all of which are staples in the standard American diet. A WFPB dietary pattern works through many mechanisms to reduce chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and imbalances in the gut microbiome while bolstering the immune system and even modulating gene expression. This nutritional pattern is championed by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) and documented to prevent, treat, and even reverse cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, autoimmune diseases, and common cancers, among others. Plant-based nutrition is a burgeoning field with solid evidence from both research and clinical practice, yet far from mainstream approaches to medicine, health promotion, and nutrition education that permeate the practice of public health. To date, there are very few community-based initiatives to connect and transform whole communities with the evidence; the greatest successes in the field are led by clinicians who are often inaccessible to those without substantial financial resources. PPMNY would like to demonstrate the power of the people to make change themselves with supermarket foods, alongside clinical and community partners, but not fully reliant on them. Our long-term strategy involves building a culture of health around community hubs, testing the theory that whole food, plant-based nutrition can be successfully adopted by wide swaths of a single community when provided with the above inputs and with multiple community-based partners at the table. We envision that tremendous demand will enable a complete shift away from a food system that favors and subsidizes animal and processed foods toward one that embraces whole plant foods as a key to our public health and ecological sustainability. Our health empowerment networks are developed by leaders who have learned about and/or have been personally impacted by a health-promoting plant-based diet. Those individuals will be supported by PPMNY to come together and create relationships for grassroots change in their local communities, often working through partnering community-based organizations that serve as hubs of connection, education, and support. This is all connected in a much larger network that we steward across the metro area. With networks at multiple levels of community, we believe change will accelerate and then indelibly impact the narratives, practices, and policies that define our food system. Our vision will address each of these themes: - Environment: By creating an environment of health through proper nutrition, we then in turn create a healthy environment within our local communities and in the ecosystems that we have harnessed to create and distribute our food. - Diets: Diet is an obvious, core piece of our work, whereby nutrition is the most critical trigger for health promotion. - Economics: By shifting demand, we create an economic environment that can eliminate rather than proliferate chronic disease. We can use capitalism to our advantage when the demand comes from the people. - Culture: In networks, working in and through community relationships, we can create cultures of connection, care, healing, sharing, and transformation. The culture we seek writ large can be developed within smaller networks that, when linked as a fractal, dictate the culture of the wider network. - Technology: In some ways, our vision is about downplaying the role of technology. We want to simplify by reducing the need for food processing, medications, high-tech health care, and more. Instead, we can focus on technology as a tool for network building -- social networks that connect us and allow us to share information and make the truth about food and health viral. - Policy: Policy can be developed out of local networks of action. In our vision, we may seek many different policy changes at different levels of community -- policies within our community-based organizations, workplaces, and schools; policies within local government; policies within families about how we feed our loved ones, especially our young and our elderly; etc. How our vision is: - Systems-Focused - by advancing health empowerment through networks at different levels of community, we are taking a systems approach that acknowledges the complexity of the issue and seeks to make changes within different spheres of influence. All together, those individual actions are amplified and accelerated through our metro-wide network. - Transformative - by transforming people’s health with food, we are transforming how people think about food, nutrition, health and health care, and even the very purpose of life. Transformation is a key for understanding, as we watch people heal from chronic illness, reducing and reversing disease markers and experiencing wellness holistically. - Community Rooted - by engaging hyperlocal networks, we are asking community members to identify their needs, motivations, places of gathering, and leaders to initiate transformation in food and health. - Inspirational - Healing is an inspiring process, one that asks people to reconnect with their own bodies and learn how life advances, renews, and regenerates with each day, year, and generation. Our vision will spark communal inspiration when whole groups of people are liberated from illness and released from the fear of future illness that may have been assumed as inevitable.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Lianna Reisner  Great to see you joining the Prize!
We noticed your submission is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have your submission included in the Prize. Even if you've not started populating your Vision just yet, by publishing your submission you can make it public for other teams in your region to see, get in touch and possibly even collaborate with you.
You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. If you need inspiration or guidance, take a look at the Food Vision Prize Toolkit.
Here is the link to the Prize Toolkit:

Look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming weeks.