Health, the future, and that guy with the tacos.

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That guy in the cool uniform making tacos is Vivek Murthy.

If you don’t know Vivek, it so happens he’s the Surgeon General of the United States, and he has some strong thoughts about food. “What demands attention,” he says unequivocally, “is a fundamental building block of health that many are lacking: food.”

In his mind, good food matters as much to health as new medications, new technologies, expanded insurance or improved quality of care.

“As a physician, I have seen the consequences of hunger,” he said. “I see the price of hunger as surgeon general, too.”

That price includes diabetes, heart disease, obesity, emotional challenges, and stress that spawns other health issues.

So there was Vivek making tacos in the food bank this afternoon, celebrating cooking, wellness, and the 60th anniversary of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition at today’s Family Food Fest event. He was high-fiving children, and asking about each kid’s favorite fruit.

Cindy said her favorite fruit was the kumquat, to which he replied: “If you like exotic fruits, try a jackfruit.”

She agreed to give it a taste test.

The surgeon general and the President’s Council chose the food bank as a venue because both have concluded the same thing we have: that food is at the heart of health and fitness.

After hearing about our work with recipes and nutrition education, someone on the surgeon general’s staff turned to me and said, “I didn’t realize the food bank was a public health organization.”

And with that comment, our mission came into sharp focus: we provide food to those who need it, absolutely. And we will continue to do so as long as the need exists. But food banks of the 21st century must also transform ourselves into public health organizations, and the Capital Area Food Bank is fast on that path. We are:

  • Supplying the community with millions of pounds of fruits and vegetables each year – over a third of of the 46 million pounds of food we send out.
  • Pairing our produce with recipes and produce guides so that those who receive them are empowered to understand them and prepare them.
  • Working closely with our retail partners, like Giant, Shoppers, and others to continuously winnow down the sugar and salt in the food we receive and distribute.
  • Creating robust and creative partnerships of all kinds with other health-centric organizations, like our partnership with the American Heart Association to bring blood pressure test equipment and information about heart healthy food to our network of food pantries.

This transformation – from food bank to public health organization – is our work, no less important than loading a forklift with food, or getting our fleet of trucks out into the community each day. It drives our thinking and our actions.

As a society, we have become increasingly aware that, as former AOL CEO Steve Case said, “health begins at the end of a fork”. Our future begins on our plates, and at the Capital Area Food Bank, we’re building a stronger future each day. And we’re glad to have that guy in the cool uniform joining us as we do.

CAFB CEO Nancy E. Roman with Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, and Shannon Feaster, Deputy Executive Director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.