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Food, Culture, and Health - What Do You Do?

Food is used universally in relation to health. This is a commonality between people of different cultural backgrounds. It is the particulars that are different.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
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Several years ago I co taught a course entitled "Introduction to Primary Care Practice" to medical students in New York City.   Every week students attended sessions at the community health center where we provided services to a culturally diverse low income community. This introductory course was broken down by module. One module was entitled "Culture and Immigrant Health."  The focus of this module was to learn, through readings and interactive exercises, the importance of cultural competence as a tool in the practice of medicine.  

The module started with a simple exercise.  We were a group of 7.
The students were all first generation Americans, each hailing from a different country of origin.  Families were from the Caribbean, Asia, and South Asia, and my family is originally from Eastern Europe and Austria.  So we were an interesting mix, fascinating that each student was from a different culture and that they were all first generation.  Everyone was to think of a food that was significant in their own family, culture, as it relates to health.  We then shared this with the group.  The exercise was fascinating and fun!
 
The food I shared was Chicken Soup - aka Jewish Penicilin.  I was surprised the students did not know about this old time "remedy for the common cold and for the soul."  In NYC I thought this was common knowledge.  I learned otherwise and it brought to mind that communities can live side by side within their own cultural contexts, unaware of the beliefs and practices of their neighbors.

One standout for all in the group was a student who shared that in her home, her parents were from Taiwan, it was customary to eat the head of fish, with the eyes, to promote good vision.  (I found a reference to this in an article about contemporary cuisine in Taipei.
 

We shared 7 different ways that food is used in relation to health unique to our different cultural backgrounds. This included use as remedies for ailments, but also as preventive measures and to promote health and well being.  

          Food, Culture and Health - What do you do?  
Feel free to share with the community in the comments below.


CULTURE AND PARENTING  - What do different cultures do?
What part does culture play in parenting practices around the globe?  What part will culture play in acceptance of new ideas and interventions?

Can sharing our practices and beliefs create awareness and support between parents and different communities?  Can this facilitate new approaches, to overcome obstacles, ensuring that all children thrive?

All parents want their children to grow up healthy, resilient and ready to succeed.  How can communities learn from each other, identify best practices and build on them to create programming that can benefit children across cultures?
 

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Photo of Meena

Great to hear about your personal experiences on this, Bettina – and we're amped what it might inspire for our upcoming Ideas phase with low-income communities in the developing world in mind. Also makes me think about the empowerment model mentioned here: https://openideo.com/challenge/zero-to-five/research/training-community-workers-to-give-mothers-best-practices-in-india which could be used for something like this?