Dr. Geeta Maker-Clark, an integrative family physician and a pioneer in Chicago-area integrative medicine, has teamed up with Chef Ellen King, owner of Evanston’s popular Hewn Bakery, to present a Food as Medicine workshop series. Held at Hewn Bakery, the workshops offer cooking classes with a twist. Ms. King demonstrates how to cook anti-inflammatory, plant-based dishes, while Dr. Maker-Clark highlights the process with an informative lesson on nutrition, pointing out health benefits and healing properties of the specific ingredients used.

“I grew up in a household where spices and herbs were used for medicinal purposes and eating certain foods at certain times of the day was just a way of life,” said Dr. Maker-Clark.

Dr. Maker-Clark received no nutrition education during medical school and was exposed to very little during her residency. She said she knew inherently that food was a critical component to one’s overall health, and as a doctor and a healer she needed to learn more about it. She spent two years training at the University of Arizona Fellowship in Integrative Medicine under the supervision and mentorship of Dr. Andrew Weil, a world-renowned pioneer in the field of nutrition and well being.

Ms. King, who opened Hewn Bakery at 810 Dempster St. in June 2013, is a classically trained chef, passionate about promoting local and sustainable ingredients. She attended a sustainable farm school in Eastern Washington where she learned to farm organically, cook seasonally and bake bread in a wood-fired oven. Ms. King’s culinary work led her to food activism, and she is an advocate for educating the general public about healthy, local eating.

When Dr. Maker-Clark began taking private cooking lessons from Ms. King several years ago in her Evanston home, the duo sensed they were onto something.

“Ellen was teaching me some basic cooking skills out of her kitchen, and while she was teaching me, we realized I was also teaching her about the health benefits of the ingredients she was using,” said Dr. Maker-Clark.

The two shared so much information with each other during those cooking lessons they decided that together they had a lot to bring to the table. They began offering a few classes here and there to the community. The classes were so well received, requests for more increased and the Food as Medicine workshop series was created.

Offered throughout the year, each class covers a different health issue. Past topics have included Take Care of Your Gut, Warm Vibrant Family Health, Foods to Improve Your Mood, Healthy Strong Heart and Spice Rack Medicine. The classes are informative and relaxed and questions are encouraged. Participants walk away with a packet filled with the night’s recipes, a heap of useful nutrition information and a full stomach. The
group eats Ms. King’s prepared meal together.

The meals are all plant-based, although fish and eggs do show up in some of the recipes. Dr. Maker-Clark believes a plant-based diet is the best option for treating disease and living a healthy life. However, she notes that every individual needs to be treated differently based on one’s constitution and health concerns.

“Animals and animal products such as dairy tend to create inflammatory compounds in the body,” said Dr. Maker-Clark. “I don’t think they need to be eliminated entirely, but shifting away from animal-based protein to plant-based protein is a more healthful way of eating and is certainly the way the most healthful societies in the world eat.”

Dr. Maker-Clark said she has seen firsthand many of her own patients improve their health by switching to an anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet.

“Someone with a highly inflammable illness such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes would see drastic improvement making dietary changes, but we’ve also seen improvement in everything from headaches to depression to abdominal pain,” she added.

Dr. Maker-Clark said she is seeing a shift in the way Americans look at food and their health.

“A lot of collaboration is happening between farmers and chefs and policymakers, and the medical and healthcare industry is getting more involved in that conversation, too,” she said.

Dr. Maker-Clark is involved in a program at the University of Chicago that is creating a culinary medicine curriculum for the purpose of training future doctors to be able to talk with patients about food and nutrition.

“I’m optimistic about the future of medicine and nutrition,” said Dr. Maker-Clark. “We certainly have a long way to go, but it will continue to move forward as the public desires more and more providers who can talk to them about real lifestyle changes rather than simply taking medications.”

In the meantime, individuals are learning to take charge of their own health by educating themselves and perhaps enrolling in a Food as Medicine workshop.

More information on upcoming workshops is available at drgeetamakerclark.com.