Food as Medicine — 5 Good Food Ideas

5 Good Food Ideas reshaping our food system for the better. Check out previous installments of Good Food Ideas.

1. Spoiler Alert — A Food Waste Marketplace: Spoiler Alert is a Boston-based startup whose platform connects food producers and nonprofits to help manage and divert food waste. Using the platform, food producers can track waste and qualify for tax credits when food is donated. When there’s surplus available, businesses alert the network and nonprofits or communities in need can claim that food through the platform. Alternatively, surplus food can also be sold to grocery stores at a discount. Spoiler Alert does not delivery or transport the food, but instead works with local third-party partners to do that. As of last year, the startup was working with over 200 food businesses and nonprofits in New England, including the major distributor Sysco and the innovative nonprofit grocery store Daily Table (see my interview with Daily Table CEO Doug Rauch). Spoiler Alert is looking to expand to other markets across the country.

2. Food Banks Personalizing Nutrition: As we move to a system that incentivizes preventative health care that improves livelihoods and reduces costs, healthy food choices will become increasingly important. Insurance companies are paying closer attention and developing programs to encourage healthy food purchases. Wholesome Wave is spreading Produce Prescriptions, whereby doctors prescribe patients who have diet-related illnesses free fruit and vegetables. And, medical schools at Tulane and Georgetown are integrating the idea of “culinary medicine” into their curriculum. There is a growing recognition of the potential food can play in our health care system. Now, food banks may have a role working alongside health care providers to better serve people with certain nutritional needs. The Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation at Harvard University produced two reports outlining ways that food banks and providers can collaborate while maintaining patient privacy. Those recommendations include placing food bank representatives at health clinics and vice versa and educating health providers about linkages between food and health.

3. Using Blockchain to Fight Fake Food in China: Internet giant Alibaba wants to eliminate China’s food fraud problem by using a blockchain. Businesses operating in China have long been plagued by counterfeit goods; cheap knock-offs of Nike shoes and Louis Vuitton bags litter the country. What’s more dangerous and difficult to detect are counterfeit food products. Fake basic goods like eggs, pork, soy sauce, and rice are prevalent and if consumed can be deadly. Alibaba wants to solve this problem and believes it can do so by using blockchain, the digital ledger behind bitcoin. The blockchain is simply a common, shared record of transactions. Alibaba can use it to track a food product from origin to sale, which will allow the company to quickly identify and eliminate fake food products from its platform. Alibaba’s blockchain program is expected to pilot first in Australia and New Zealand, where many Chinese consumers source food products. Walmart is already piloting similar efforts to better detect food safety risks in its vast supply chain.

4. Fighting Famine with Mobile Data: Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) teams are deployed by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to collect food price data from around the world so that they can assess food security and determine where assistance is needed. Unfortunately, in countries with high incidences of violence it be unsafe and nearly impossible for these teams to collect the data. In response to the Boko Harem crisis in Nigeria, which has left over 5 million people food insecure, WFP has collaborated with the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to develop an approach for collecting pricing data via mobile phones, called mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM). This system allows for real-time reporting and collection of price and food security data as well as direct feedback from vulnerable populations on the ground. The same system can also be deployed in other crisis countries around the world.

5. Does Food Count as Health Care?: Community Servings believes so. The Boston-based nonprofit food delivery and nutrition program provides customized meal service to seniors and those with chronic illnesses who have difficulty shopping and preparing meals themselves. The nonprofit prepares and delivers over 9,000 meals per week to homebound patients. It’s a wonderful organization whose mission is based on the premise that quality, healthy food can improve health and wellness for patients. Community Servings starts by understanding a patient’s individual medical issues. A dietitian then devises a meal plan tailored to each specific patient and the kitchen staff creates the meals from scratch, often sourcing from local producers. The meals are prepared and delivered to feed the entire home not just the patient; allowing them all to eat together. Beyond those services, the nonprofit also offers cooking classes and nutrition counseling. What’s even more remarkable is that Community Servings has been doing this work for 27 years, starting out serving people in Boston during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Originally published at on April 4, 2017.