Personal stories are very powerful.
Not just in magazines about celebrities but also in healthcare. In fact, there is a Department of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University (and at other universities) and several medical journals have created sections devoted to patient stories including the “Narrative Matters” column of Health Affairs.
I’ve written a lot about my fascination with food – how it affects inflammation, the psychology behind what we eat, how the food we eat affects the important bacteria in our gut (the microbiome) and more. I began wondering if food stories could be just as important as patient stories.
Given my interests, I was intrigued with the recent re-broadcast of an interview on Krista Tippett’s radio show “On Being” with Dan Barber, the owner of the farm-to-table restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I had previously read an op-ed piece that Dan Barber had written in the NY Times in which he talked about the importance of getting the soil right in order to make the food taste good. And the way to do this is to rotate crops to make sure the soil is getting the right nutrients. Growing only one type of crop year round will not only result in the soil missing important nutrients, but it will also mean the crops will not taste as good.
Dan Barber was explaining all of this to Krista Tippett when he said something else that made me pull my car off the road so I could pay more attention. He said that the way our food tastes to us is influenced by many factors other than the food itself – where we are, who we are with and what we know about where the food came from. He pointed out that when you ask people to describe their favorite meal, there is often a story that goes along with the meal such as “I was in a cafe in Paris” or “I was at my grandmother’s house”.
Food is an important part of staying healthy. Listening to Dan Barber talk about how he provides a story about the ingredients to help people enjoy their food more, I began to wonder if we should make a point of talking about our food more often. Just as telling stories about our illnesses is important, telling stories about what we eat may be just as important to our health.
In recent years, the focus on convenient, processed foods has led to an increase in diseases like diabetes and obesity. Perhaps the problem with processed foods is not just the lack of healthy ingredients, but also the fact that we have lost our connection to the food and where it came from. In other words, we have gotten away from telling food stories.
Eating the right food is essential to staying healthy and may even help treat disease. Telling personal stories of disease helps people cope and helps those who are taking care them understand the disease better. Perhaps telling our personal food stories will help us to enjoy our food more and stay healthy.