This program uses a trauma-informed framework to build resilience, develop cooking skills, and increase awareness of a healthy diet. Additionally, it explores the relationship between food and complex trauma on the individual and community level. Programming includes the identification and training of peer leaders and support of healthy family dinners and community meals.
What is it?
Most of the people targeted by public health nutrition interventions have experienced trauma or a significant degree of toxic stress that creates both practical and emotional barriers to health and good nutrition. Providing nutrition information, teaching cooking skills, and improving food access, while well-intentioned, is not enough. If these interventions are to be effective, they have to be client-centered and include mental and emotional wellness within the concept of health. Providers have to address the following questions:
- “What are the emotional experiences of our clients when they participate in our programs?
- “How do stressful and traumatic experiences shape our clients’ relationship to food, nutrition, and self-care?”
- “In what ways do our policies and practices create a positive experience that levels power differences? Reduce shame, anxiety, and tension? Ensure feelings of safety, connection, and dignity?
This also means that providers must look at how stress and trauma affect their staff’s capacity to provide services.
Why is it needed?
Trauma, characterized as an experience where one’s feelings of safety and power are overwhelmed, can have long-lasting implications for people’s health and wellbeing. Trauma also deeply affects people’s relationship to food and decision-making. Often times, nutrition programs and interventions overlook those things or end up re-triggering the feelings of powerlessness making them ineffective, or worse.
However, what is also exciting and even more important, is that food and nutrition programs are an excellent opportunity to address trauma and bring people into holistic health. The research says that enhancing people’s skills for self-care and deepening their connection to themselves and their community builds resilience to and recovery from trauma. Throughout human history, food has played this central role in care-taking and connection. Public health nutrition approaches that incorporate this deeper meaning of food can better meet people on a more fundamental level.
How was it started?
When Monica Bhagwan started working at Leah’s Pantry, she was struck by how Food Smarts is such a participant-responsive curriculum and how Leah’s Pantry actively sought to innovate and evolve. She believed those reasons were why we were invited by Bridge Housing and the Healthy Generations Project to run what became the Feeding Potrero program in Potrero Hill public housing. Monica was very excited to be able to conduct a nutrition program explicitly within the context of trauma-informed community building.
That project was an excellent proving ground for taking a new approach to food and nutrition interventions. Leah’s Pantry has supported the meal preparation and nutrition programming as part of an intervention where good nutrition is within a 5-part strategy to address toxic stress for children and families. Since its inception, we have seen not only how people’s behaviors and attitudes toward healthy food has changed, but that these changes are more meaningful when they are done in a trauma-informed approach.
What is the current status?
In the summer of 2018, we officially began testing our trauma-informed nutrition curriculum. We are excited at the overwhelmingly positive responses thus far and look forward to fully developing this groundbreaking new program. Contact us to learn more.