Fred Laughlin is unstoppable. Even though he retired last December after 27 years as director of Northwestern Michigan College’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute (GLCI), leading it to its designation as one of the country’s top cooking schools, Laughlin is onto his next quest: teaching doctors how to cook nutritious, delicious meals so they can spread the word to their patients.
Nutrition is a major key to good health, yet ironically, physicians-to-be receive little diet and nutrition education. Less than 1 percent of U.S. medical students’ lecture time includes the role that diet plays in preventing and combating disease—and they’re hungering for more.
With that in mind, Laughlin has been the backbone of several nutrition-oriented gatherings, the latest and greatest of which was the Farms, Food and Health Conference held at GLCI at the end of September. That sold-out event, put on by Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities along with Munson Healthcare, GLCI and Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, featured state-accredited hands-on Culinary Medicine training for healthcare professionals, with an emphasis on local and plant-forward diets.
Laughlin started thinking about this type of program a decade ago, when he and Munson Medical Center clinical dietitian Laura McCain started doing healthy cooking demos together. “This has always been a passion of mine,” he says. They got together with Munson cardiologist Jim Fox, who had attended the Harvard-sponsored Healthy Kitchen, Healthy Lives conference in Napa Valley, then met with other interested physicians and formed a committee to create a similar conference in Traverse City.
“It has been a big collaborative effort,” says Paula Martin, a policy specialist for the Groundwork Center and a registered dietitian with a focus on public health, who wrote the lesson plans and modules and got a grant for the first confab in 2017. Laughlin got GLCI onboard with the space, paired dietitians with cooking instructors, and devised many easy, healthful recipes that anyone can cook on a weeknight.
“This was the goal of the conference, the discovery that you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to prepare a healthy diet,” Laughlin says. Watch for another conference in the coming year.