TEDxManhattan Heroes: Robert Graham

Photograph by Christian Johnson

Leading up to TEDxManhattan 2015, we've asked this year's speakers to introduce themselves by answering a few questions. Robert Graham, MD, MPH, ABIHM, FACP, is the Director of Resident Research and the Director of Integrative Health in the Department of Internal Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, NY. As a leader in the field of integrative medicine, his initiatives include the "Fare Share" cooking/nutrition program for health providers, the "Lenox CHill Initiative" yoga and meditation program for medical residents and faculty, the "Victory Greens" rooftop garden at Lenox Hill.  

What’s the topic you’ll be speaking about?

FAREWELLNESS: Back to Our Roots - The only way to redefine our future is by going back to our roots and integrate the wisdom of our parents and grandparents into our current medical model, starting with FOOD. In most traditional medical systems, food is medicine and medicine is food. One doctor’s attempt to incorporate his roots in integrative and traditional medicine into our modern healthcare system with an emphasis on having greater respect for food, cooking, farming and their healing properties.

Transitioning an abandoned rooftop into a beautiful urban space - one that nourishes the mind, the body, and the soul of our hospital staff is good medicine.

Why is this important?

For centuries we have heard that food is the most powerful “drug” we have, not just to prevent, but also treat, cure, and reverse most chronic illnesses. Yet, traditionally, physicians receive little if any nutrition education, let alone food training during their education. Without proper food/cooking education, it is unlikely physicians will be effective in helping to reduce the high incidence of nutrition-related death and disease in this country. Secondly, while rooftop gardens have a long history in healthcare, especially in Europe, for providing employees and patients with a tranquil place to reflect and recover, rooftop farms are taking this concept a step further. Transitioning an abandoned rooftop into a beautiful urban space - one that nourishes the mind, the body, and the soul of our hospital staff is good medicine. The potential benefits rooftop and/or community gardens have in terms of public health are greater than we can even anticipate.

What are 5 things a patient can do to get their doctor interested in food and nutrition?

  1. Ask questions about the “best” foods for health from your doctors.
  2. Educate your doctor about healthy foods based on personal benefits and stories.
  3. Share experiences of trying new foods, especially different vegetables and fruits.
  4. Discuss how eating different foods makes you feel.
  5. Ask their doctors which foods they choose to eat for optimal health.

Are there other projects you’re also passionate about right now – either yours or someone else’s?

  • Mindfulness training in boardrooms, classrooms and hospitals: Based on Google’s Search Inside Yourself course, we started The Lenox CHill Initiative a few years ago - a Yoga/Meditation program for healthcare workers: “Medicine is facing a crisis, but it’s not just about money; it’s about meaning.” In the past couple of years, news articles have painted a bleak picture of the mental health challenges facing stressed-out healthcare profession. If we can take better care of our health care workers, they can take better care of our loved ones.
  • Green medicine: practicing medicine in a sustainable and ecologically sensitive manner. Healthy people, living in healthy homes, in healthy communities, learning in healthy schools, working in healthy workplaces and hospitals.
  • Urban farming movement: using rooftop and community gardens especially in food desert communities; and farmers markets in healthcare settings.
  • Faith-based organizations as change agents for healthier communities: I admire what Dr. Mark Hyman and the Daniel Plan has been able to accomplish.

(Doctors) have more to offer our patients than just our prescription pads. How about recipes?

If you could do one thing to change the food system, what would it be?

Make real, whole food more accessible and affordable for all, and educate our health care workers about the importance of food as medicine. We have more to offer our patients than just our prescription pads. How about recipes?

Which other 2015 TEDxManhattan speakers are you excited about hearing?

Ali Partovi and Shen Tong, love to hear how they can choose to invest in the mission of a cause and at the same time make margins. DJ Cavem, being an original hip-hop kid myself, I am interested in levering the power of hip-hop as a brand/movement into social causes, starting with healthy food and lifestyle.

Where can more information about your project be found?

Farewellness on Facebook, tumblr and Twitter: @Farewellness.

TEDxManhattan, "Changing the Way We Eat," will take place March 7, 2015, at the TimesCenter in New York City. Interested in joining the day? You can apply to attend, or host or attend a viewing party.