Food Pharmacy: Centering Patient Needs at the Dinner Table

Posted on: April 9, 2024San Francisco

Hello! My name is Sian Hong (she/her). I was born in Myanmar and grew up right here in San Francisco! I am serving as the Food Access Coordinator with the Food as Medicine Collaborative (FAMC). The Food as Medicine Collaborative works to bring programs called Food Pharmacies to many different clinics across San Francisco. Food Pharmacies provide fresh and nutritious grocery items in partnership with an array of different healthcare professionals (such as nurses, dieticians, pharmacists, behavioral health clinicians, etc) to holistically address hypertension and/or diabetes in structurally oppressed and vulnerable patient populations. Food Pharmacies also serve as a hub where the patient voice is elevated, and both staff and patients can gather to chat over shared recipes, community resources, program improvements, and more.

A Photo of the Food Pharmacy set up can be seen here. This includes tables in "U" formation with a variety of produce and ingredients, as well as a central table that shows a selection of what is available on that day.

I can most frequently be found supporting Food Pharmacies that focus on serving the Black/African American community in San Francisco’s District 10. Black/AA populations in San Francisco have historically faced – and continue to face – systemic racial oppression, specifically in the food system. The longstanding food apartheid that has made nutritious food items limited in quality, affordability, and availability has prompted significant health disparities across generations of Black individuals – especially with regards to hypertension. However, the resilience and activism of the Black community in San Francisco is profoundly inspiring, and we stand witness to this legacy of healthcare advocacy and leadership in the patients that we serve today.

My time as an NHC member with FAMC has taught me that change takes time, total determination, and lots of planning – even down to the littlest, seemingly-small things. My role involves working with and learning from colleagues and mentors across both FAMC and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and it consists of a range of duties: physically setting up and taking down 2-3 Food Pharmacies a week, making reminder calls to patients, drafting up the food orders using patient input, facilitating discussions with Food Pharmacy stakeholders, collecting and organizing data for program evaluation projects, preparing fruit-and-herb-infused “spa water” for our patients, and most importantly, learning what our patients’ needs are and brainstorming how Food Pharmacy can best serve these needs.

The path to food justice and food sovereignty in San Francisco is neither clear nor easy. It is a path that must be radically trailblazed, and that takes the work of entire governments, communities, and individuals. My service role has taught me to start at the beginning: person-to-person, to see what a patient’s immediate needs are – and how we can zoom out, understand the bigger picture, and advocate for change at a larger scale. What I have learned here will inform how I approach public health programming and public health research in the future, and I am beyond excited to carry this experience with me moving forward.

Host Site