Revival Foods Project:Global comforts that heal

Raghavan Iyer’s Revival Foods Project: Global comforts that heal

Biography and background

For more than 35 years, Raghavan Iyer has been adding spice to his adopted home of Minnesota by sharing the culinary traditions and culture of his native India. As a nationally recognized chef, sought-after culinary consultant, and award-winning cookbook author, Iyer has been a leader in his field, introducing new audiences to ancient ways of cooking while earning an Emmy, three James Beard awards, two IACP (formerly the Julia Child Awards) awards, and a recent ranking from Epicurious as one of the “100 Greatest Influencers for Home Cooks of All Time.”

Now Iyer is embarking on a new project to bring comfort food from around the world to patients battling the brutal effects of chemotherapy and other health challenges. Inspired by his own experience as a stage IV cancer patient, Iyer’s goal is to bring more globally inspired and culturally relevant recipes into hospitals and other health care settings to provide nourishment, joy and healing to patients from diverse backgrounds.

“We live in an increasingly multicultural world, and yet, we don’t take advantage of the foods that other cultures have relied on for centuries to promote healing and recovery,” Iyer explains. “For instance, the turmeric and ginger common in Indian cuisine can relieve inflammation and overcome nausea, Ethiopian injera can bring a souring comfort to an ailing stomach, and Vietnamese pho is packed with immune-boosting power. As an active cancer patient myself, I began to wonder why the great wisdom of the world’s home cooks and healers has not yet found its way into hospital settings and dietary training where it can provide real comfort to an increasingly multicultural patient population. I intend to use the funds for research, development, writing, and creating an interactive website that will be accessible gratis for patients undergoing chemotherapy and GI surgery, their caregivers, dietitians in clinics and hospitals who work with these patients, oncology, and surgery physicians and their staff. A collection of patient stories and their cultural menus will be collated as a book in print and electronic form.”

The Concept: The Revival Foods Project: Global comforts that heal

Iyer is the author of six award-winning cookbooks, including Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking, Indian Cooking Unfolded, and the influential 660 Curries. But The Revival Foods Project is about far more than building a collection of recipes. “My goal is to learn from cancer patients from other immigrant communities and the food cultures they come from to create a database of healing cuisine from around the world—culturally significant food, recipes and
ethnic preparations that are not only nutritious, but that also bring curative comfort to the spirits of those who are suffering from the brutal effects of cancer treatment,” says Iyer. “Here in Minnesota, nearly 15 percent of the population are foreign-born or first-generation immigrants from places like Mexico, Somalia, India, Laos, and Ethiopia. We know that the availability of satisfying, appealing and familiar comfort food can have a sizeable effect on a patient’s motivation to eat--especially when side effects disrupt one’s appetite.

That’s why my dream is to build a robust collection of recovery foods that will assist and inspire hospitals and health care settings to expand their menus to include foods that are important to the region’s largest immigrant communities.”

Next Steps and New Partnerships

To fund the research and reporting phase of The Revival Foods Project (RFP), Iyer will be launching a Go Fund Me campaign in Spring 2021 seeking both individual and charitable contributions. As recipes are developed and tested, RFP will also be partnering with Open Arms of Minnesota, a nonprofit that cooks and delivers free, nutritious meals to people living with life-threatening illnesses in the Twin Cities. The Revival Foods Project includes an advisory council comprised of eight professionals (doctor, lawyer, public relations director, CIO, CEO, researcher, grant-writer, and healthcare consultant) from various organizations. As the
project develops, RFP will also be seeking to partner with a hospital or healthcare system to launch a small pilot program to test the efficacy and appeal of these culturally relevant dishes and new menu items.

Why Bringing Better Food to Cancer Patients Matters

Behind heart disease, cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide (9.6 million annually, 2017).

Cancer is not one disease but a hundred different diseases, adding to the complexity of treating it.

An individual’s statistical chance of having cancer depends in part on age, where one lives, economic stability and health status. Worldwide, 87 percent of people with cancer are 50 or older.

Cancer rates in the U.S. are among the world’s highest, with 6 percent of the population having cancer at any given time.

Minnesota’s cancer rates are in keeping with national statistics; in Minnesota there are 26,000 new cancer cases each year, meaning one out of two Minnesotans will have cancer at some time in their lives.

Minnesotans include an estimated 484,000 immigrants, and an additional 418,000 native born individuals with at least one immigrant parent; combined they are an estimated 15 percent of Minnesota’s population.

The top countries of origin for immigrants in Minnesota were Mexico (12 percent of immigrants), Somalia (8 percent), India (6 percent), Laos (5 percent including Hmong), and Ethiopia (5 percent).

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Raghavan Iyer
Minneapolis, MN

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