Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: Take it from Hippocrates: ‘Let food be thy medicine’

  • Nora Finnerty, a volunteer with Manna, fills containers with salad as part of a meal in June. Manna provides free meals for the community and shelters throughout the week. Gazette file photo

Published: 9/17/2020 7:59:45 PM
Modified: 9/17/2020 7:59:35 PM

Green beans. Trays of eggplant parmesan. Bunches of bananas. A thing I kept calling a cheese ball but learned was gorgonzola-infused butter. My summer memories could be categorized into interactions with food, not for myself, but for others, being served across the community.

As with all things, COVID has made the fault lines more pronounced, but it is fundamentally a failing of capitalism that there are people who do not have the means to access healthy, nutritious food regularly. That lack of access can have ripple effects, impacting one’s ability to learn, to work, and to be healthy.

As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine” or, in other words, “Food is medicine.” In acknowledgement of this, every day, people gather across this district to make sure that meals are prepared and served, because they recognize that we do not yet live in a world where food is accessible to all.

June

On a muggy day, volunteers filed back and forth with boxes of food sitting on the floor of the school cafeteria. Twenty-five for one location. Thirty-two for the next. Masks and gloves making everything hotter but necessary for safety.

The work was organized by Grow Food Northampton, the Northampton Survival Center, and Community Action, a partnership formed to make sure food was getting into the community in new and unique ways after COVID struck.

After trucks were loaded at the Jackson Street School parking lot, volunteers each got into their own cars to drive to the delivery sites. There were extra bananas this week and we pondered how best to divide 150 bunches fairly among 90-plus boxes. Extra greens, unsold at Tuesday Market, had been purchased by Grow Food Northampton and went into the boxes too, adding another dash of color along with the apples and oranges.

In just a few hours, the car caravan had finished its trek through the city, all the food delivered following social distancing guidelines, masks firmly in place, and the volunteers finally experiencing the magnificent feeling of removing plastic gloves after a long, sweaty morning of work.

July

Sunday, 3 p.m. The folks volunteering with Cathedral in the Night had already taken over the hall at First Churches. Before COVID, Cathedral in the Night always reminded me of a community picnic in downtown Northampton on Sunday evenings. It was joyful to watch and moreso to participate.

Now, takeaway containers lined the tables as volunteers of all ages began filling them. Everyone looked calm and put-together. Had anyone else spent the last few hours baking, only to discover the recipe had made 41 instead of 48 cookies, and rushed to make another batch? Nope, didn’t seem like it.

In short order, meals were assembled and placed into bags, ready to be handed out. The method of serving had changed by necessity, but the joy in the work and the sense of community was still present.

August

“Oh, don’t seal that yet! The steak is missing its cheese ball.” After an hour at the Kindness Cafe (aka Manna Meals), someone finally told me that it was gorgonzola-infused butter. Gaggles of children helped their parents put together meals worthy of a Best in the Valley award. Steak with the gorgonzola butter, stuffed peppers for those who preferred plant-based meals.

A smaller volunteer stood at the door next to a grown-up, fetching drinks and practicing arabesques as 130 meals made their way out the door. Inside, there was an assembly line for first filling, then sealing, and then bagging up meals: entree, salad, dessert and fruit.

One of the men told me how nice it had been before COVID; everyone ate in the hall together. Now, that was not possible, although a tent had been set up outside. The quality of the meal remained high though. “People don’t just need to be fed,” he said. “They need to be fed healthy food that they want to eat. It is about treating people with decency and respect.”

At the State House, we often talk about how our budgets should reflect our values, but each year, funding for programs to end food insecurity is just never enough, like SNAP, benefits that supplement an individual or family’s food budget, and the Health Incentives Program, which allows people to buy more fruits and vegetables by giving them $1 back in benefits for each dollar they spend, up to a monthly limit, on eligible fruits and vegetables.

This is, of course, at the same time as need is rising. Coupled with the fact that there is absolutely enough food for every single person on this planet to eat healthy, balanced meals and yet a third of the food produced is either squandered or spoiled before it can be consumed, it begs the question: if Hippocrates was right and food is medicine, why are we not prioritizing something so simple and basic as making sure everyone is fed?

The good news is that on the local level, we seem to be on the right track. On the state-level though, there remains much work to be done.

Lindsay Sabadosa is a Northampton resident and the state representative for the 1st Hampshire District. She can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.


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