Will Bradford and Stacy Marshall’s Schweitzer Fellowship project began with a black bean burger.
As first-year medical students at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, the two did a lot of cooking together, to relieve stress and save money.
“We came up with a black bean burger recipe together,” Stacy recalls. “We were always trying to save money, and I remember being so pleased by this recipe that was delicious, easy, healthy, and incredibly cheap.”
They shared the bean burger at the potluck dinners that are a staple of life for first-year med students―and indulged in dishes cooked by classmates.
“Since we’re all medical students, the foods were generally inexpensive and healthy―well, with a few exceptions,” says Will. “When the call came for Schweitzer project proposals, we thought, “Why not share some of these cheap, healthy recipes with others?”
That’s exactly what they’ve been doing since July. In cooperation with Brenner FIT, a pediatric weight management program at Brenner Children’s Hospital, and Exchange/SCAN, a child-abuse prevention organization, Will and Stacy are conducting classes in healthy cooking on a budget for domestic violence survivors and those at risk for abuse.
“[We] want to help people…be confident in the kitchen, and feel empowered by their knowledge of cooking and basic nutrition,” Stacy says of the class. “In this way, individuals and families can be the driving force behind leading healthier lifestyles.”
Just a few weeks into the program, Will and Stacy are already seeing positive results.
One of their first lessons was on making chicken stir-fry and yogurt parfaits, where Stacy watched as one student cubed her chicken so slowly, Stacy thought the two-hour class would end before she was finished with the recipe. “Even with the two hours,” she barely made it out on time,” Stacy recalls.
But, three classes later, Stacy reports, “it’s amazing, the changes we have seen. [This student] is far more confident in her skills and ability to follow the recipe correctly. This is a common trend in all of our participants. She brought her teenage son to the last class, asked me for all of the recipes we had cooked, and seemed truly excited about cooking. I know we put in a lot of hours for our project and the number of people we will help may seem small, but I truly believe we are having a large impact on students like her.”
Will recalls being ambivalent about the stir-fry lesson, believing that students would already be familiar with a dish that has been such a staple of his life, and saw it as waste of time.
“Lo and behold, on the day of class, it seemed that almost none of our participants had made a stir fry before!” he says. “The dish ended up being one of our most popular of the class. One woman said to me, ‘It never even would have occurred to me to cook chicken like this. I’ve only ever fried it before.’ Other women in the room echoed the same sentiment.
“It was a great moment,” Will says. “We had taught them this extremely simple recipe, but it was actually a revolutionary moment for several participants, who had learned a healthier way to prepare a food they ate all the time. Many students came back the following week and reported making the stir fry at home. The success of that recipe represents the kinds of small, yet profound, dietary changes that we are trying to encourage with our class.”
If Will was surprised that chicken stir-fry was such a hit, he was even more surprised at how easy it was to enlist the support of community organizations in getting their project off the ground. It took a just a few email exchanges and informal meetings to secure a meeting space from Brenner FIT; childcare for students from the local YMCA; food donations from Food Lion, a local grocer; and transportation for students to and from the class provided by Exchange/SCAN volunteers.
Stacy was also pleasantly surprised by the willingness of others to help. “People have been incredibly welcoming of our project,” she says. “We have had our challenges and have put in many hours of preparation work, but I thought determining the logistics of this project would be far more difficult. I assumed people would not have the time or means to help us develop this project. This assumption could not have been more wrong. I discovered that if you are willing to put in the effort and have the desire to serve your community, people want and will go out of their way to help. It’s been an incredibly humbling and encouraging experience.”
Will and Stacy say that they are confident that their project could be sustained beyond their Fellowship year, noting that they have developed good partnerships with Brenner FIT, Exchange/SCAN, the YMCA and Food Lion. “We have been maintaining a binder with all paperwork, recipes, contact information and other documents that may be helpful in the future,” says Stacy.
Knowing it can take some time for sustainability plans to come into place, Stacy and Will have begun to approach interest groups at the university to see determine who would be the right fit to adopt their program as a service project. Will notes there are great professional benefits for med students who get involved with the class. “Many of our peers in medical school have worked as volunteers during our class, interacting with our participants,” he says. “They have learned about our participants’ attitudes toward and knowledge of nutrition, the day-to-day struggles that many of them face and many other lessons about the patient base they will one day serve as physicians.”
Stacy further explains, “So, it may be a med school interest group who becomes the new leaders or even an undergraduate organization. The wonderful thing about Wake Forest is that there are so many students who are involved in service and social action that I feel confident that our project can continue for years to come.”