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  2. May 15, 2024

Helping Food for Life Instructors Reach Underserved Communities

Helping Food for Life Instructors Reach Underserved Communities
Food for Life Instructors Brenda Workman, Dionne Shaw Bush, Rodrigo Cardoso, and Brandy Cochrane

In 2019, after her annual mammogram, Dionne Shaw Bush was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer and decided to take charge of her well-being with a plant-based diet.

“I dove headfirst into the world of whole food, plant-based eating and witnessed its incredible power in transforming my life,” says Dionne, who became a Physicians Committee Food for Life instructor in 2023, teaching classes in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. “Five years later I’m still here, and nutrition is one of the key factors. My message is: Let’s live longer and healthier lives—and I’m going to be the living example.”

Dionne was one of 17 Food for Life instructor training scholarship recipients in 2023. To qualify for a scholarship, applicants need to demonstrate a financial need and a commitment to helping underserved communities, including Black, Latino, and Native American communities.

Dionne Shaw Bush Scholarship Recipient

“The grant was instrumental in enabling me to deliver Food for Life classes to populations most impacted by health disparities,” says Dionne. “I aim to address the systemic health inequities that exist and empower individuals to make positive lifestyle changes.”

Since 2021, the Food for Life program has awarded 86 scholarships to instructors around the globe who are committed to improving the health of their communities through plant-based nutrition.

From 2022 to May 2024, scholarship recipients taught significant number of community members. They taught nearly 800 classes, reaching nearly 8,350 participants. The top curricula taught included 385 Kickstart Your Health class series (including the Spanish-language Activa tu salud), 181 Diabetes Initiative class series (including the Spanish-language Iniciativa Diabetes), and 165 stand-alone Healthy Heart classes.

The scholarship recipients also successfully increased their reach to communities disproportionately impacted by health disparities. Overall, the scholarship recipients taught 120% more Hispanic class participants and 75% more Black participants than instructors who had not received scholarships.

“My superpower is discovering how plant-curious individuals can find simple, creative, and fun ways to eat more plants to improve their health,” says Brandy Cochrane, who received a scholarship in 2022 and now teaches classes in the Bronx, N.Y. “I am passionate about using the power of plants to improve lives.”

Natalie, a breast cancer survivor who says her Puerto Rican culture is very meat heavy, took a Food for Life class with Brandy.

“I wanted to be more conscious of what I was eating, which always seemed very overwhelming to do on my own,” says Natalie. “I really learned how to cook differently and be more mindful. I would encourage more people to participate.”

In France, Rodrigo Cardoso, a Food for Life instructor who received a scholarship in 2023, is working with a nonprofit called De la Science à l'Assiette—which translates to “From Science to the Plate”—on translating the Food for Life Kickstart Your Health and Cancer Project curricula into French and plans to start offering classes in October 2024.

“A plant-based diet is still a very young movement in France,” says Rodrigo. “Because the Food for Life courses were created by the Physicians Committee’s doctors, nurses, and dietitians, this offers credibility that will be a powerful strategy in reaching both those who seek a better health through food and health care professionals.”

Brenda Workman, who was awarded a scholarship in 2021, grew up in West Virginia in the Appalachian Mountains, where meals were typically meaty and high in fat, she says. After her doctor recommended a plant-based diet she lost 60 pounds and was able to stop taking medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Now, her Food for Life class participants are experiencing similar health improvements.

“One participant who had diabetes told me, ‘After I took your class and loved the food so much, I started cooking that way. Now I’m off insulin,’” recalls Brenda. “Every time I hear successes like that my eyes well up. This is why I do what I do.”

Applications for the fall Food for Life instructor training are due June 1. To learn more about scholarship opportunities and to apply, visit PCRM.org/FFLTraining.

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