Good Health Starts in the Kitchen

Good Health Starts in the Kitchen

By Ken Walker-

After the national spotlight fell on Huntington in 2006 thanks to the popular We Are Marshall movie, it returned a few years later when Jamie Oliver’s production crew came to town to film his award-winning mini-series for ABC.

Yet more proof of the long-term impact of Oliver’s visit surfaced recently with the news  that Huntington’s Kitchen–the downtown storefront space that served as Oliver’s cooking studio—has changed hands.

After operating for three years under the direction of Ebenezer Medical Outreach, the community outreach ministry transferred operations to Cabell Huntington Hospital.

Perhaps that was only fitting, since the hospital largely funded operations since it opened in January of 2010.

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The medical outreach has its hands full with other matters. Director Yvonne Jones said while she believes in prevention (indeed, in the aftermath of Oliver’s show she took a huge step away from meat), with the changes in health care Ebenezer needed to focus more attention on its mission.

I see the move as a good one, particularly since the hospital brings more resources to bear on what is the root of one of the region’s crucial problems—poor eating and exercise habits. As Huntington-area Pastor Steve Willis says, “We like to eat like our grandparents ate, but we don’t like to work like our grandparents worked.”

Cabell Huntington’s takeover is also encouraging because it provides additional stability to a grassroots type of endeavor that will pay dividends many years down the road. After all, this is a problem that was years in the making, and solutions will take just as long.

One of the ironic aspects of the year-round, healthy cooking classes at Huntington’s Kitchen is that instructors discovered that many residents simply didn’t know how to cook. Not too surprising in a convenience and microwave-oriented society where life moves too quickly for many to pass on basic insights.

Community Support

There is another aspect to the continuation of Huntington’s Kitchen that should encourage other communities that would like to see the same sort of solution enacted closer to home. Namely, that support for this endeavor arose out of one of the nation’s least-affluent areas.

In other words, if Huntington can do this, what is stopping other cities and regions with far more resources?

No matter where in the world people live, though, they will have to face the intense criticism and inertia that greet most-any healthy-eating movement.

One of the biggest sources of opposition will arise from those who sneer that you must be part of the “Food Police.” I know—I used to be one of those critics, until my longtime weight struggles led me to the operating room for a double bypass.

Another will be those who scream, “It’s my right to eat whatever I want,” but who fail to recognize two realities: 1) obesity-related health problems are driving up everyone’s health care costs and threaten to bankrupt the nation, 2) many saying that are receiving some form of government-funded or subsidized health care. That means it is no longer solely a private matter.

High Heart-Attack Rate

Despite the good news about Huntington’s Kitchen, soon after the region received a jolt of bad news: it is among the worst in the nation for the incidence of heart attacks.

Commenting on the rate, a doctor from the hospital where I had my heart surgery said, “Being overweight is probably, in this community, contributing most to the high risk of heart attack.”

The fact that lifestyles create medical problems poses an unpleasant truth that millions of Americans want to avoid facing. Such as the man featured in the story who admitted that he should have listened to his doctor’s advice 25 years ago to lose weight and exercise so he could avoid health problems later.

“I don’t know why I didn’t listen,” he said. “I guess because I hadn’t had any problems up to that point, and I thought it wasn’t going to happen to me.”

I know exactly what he meant—and how he feels now. Which is why facilities like Huntington’s Kitchen are vital to our nation’s future health.


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