•    Food can be medicine, but nutrition is not often part of physician practice.
•    Access to healthful food can be a challenge in many patient communities.
•    Physicians and health systems can foster access to healthier food for patients.
•    Approaches can extend beyond hospital/clinic walls to address environmental context.


Food can be powerful medicine. Good nutrition helps promote health and prevent and treat disease. Yet nutrition is not often part of a physician’s training or clinical practice. Food might not be medicine when it’s importance is under-recognized and healthful eating is under-prescribed. Moreover, food cannot be medicine when it is not available to patients (or when available only in the form of unhealthful fare). This paper considers evolving thinking about when food isn’t medicine by chronicling the experience of one physician—from college coursework to providing patient care and conducting research. The paper is framed around the experience of a representative patient struggling with diet-related chronic conditions, and describes some community-focused initiatives to help address issues related to food access in challenged communities. A principal focus is the

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over-abundance of foods from ‘plants’ (the industrial processing kind) and the low availability of food from ‘plants’ (the living botanical kind). Physicians and health systems can support access to healthier food and healthier eating, and the idea of food as medicine, through a variety of approaches that extend beyond hospital and clinic walls. Examples of such physician and health-system approaches are provided.