#178 Prescribing Fruit & Vegetables with Jonathan Pauling

21 Dec 2022

On a previous episode of the doctors kitchen podcast you may remember me chatting with Professor Guy Standing about Universal Basic Income. This was at the height of the pandemic, furlough was in full swing and the concept of a guaranteed minimum salary was gathering pace. Having that discussion made me think about the possibility of prescribing fruit and vegetables in the NHS. The concept wasn’t warmly received by Professor Guy, for reasons that we will discuss today, but I’m pleased to say it could actually become a reality!

Jonathan Pauling is Chief Executive of the Alexandra Rose Charity, whose vision is for everyone to have access to healthy and affordable food and whose mission is to give families access to fresh fruit & vegetables in their communities.

I hadn’t come across the charity before, but our values are so aligned! It was founded in 1912 by Queen Alexandra and established to support Londoners in poverty. Inspired by a priest in her native Denmark selling roses to raise money for those in need, Queen Alexandra brought the idea back to the UK.

Real roses were substituted for silk ones, and Rose Day was created. The funds raised from the sale of these roses was distributed to help Londoners in poverty access healthcare. Today, their focus is on the issue of food poverty.

In a landmark study that started a few months ago, they are trialling rose vouchers that are exchangeable for healthy fruit and vegetables from street market vendors in deprived areas. This latest trial is on the back of years of work across other areas in the UK and pilots where they’re also involved in cooking workshops and healthy start vouchers for families with young children. Something that Johnathan mentions on the podcast today really hit home to me. He said we can’t just tackle financial inequality, we have to tackle health inequality.

And from previous schemes they’ve already demonstrated that simply increasing fruit and vegetable consumption can lead to improvements in energy, digestive health and reduced the reliance on processed foods. That isn’t to say this is a cure-all for poverty, but it’s definitely something we should be looking at to “level up”.

I’ve wished for the ability to prescribe healthy food and this study could pave the way for that reality.

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GUEST: Jonathan Pauling

Jonathan has spent the past 15 years working at the nexus of food, health, social justice and sustainability. Prior to joining Alexandra Rose he was the Principal Policy Officer for the Mayor of London’s Food Board. His work here included leading the implementation of the Mayor’s Food Strategy to develop sustainable supply chains including the development and implementation of food standards for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. He was also a commissioner for the Commission for Sustainable London 2012 which oversaw the assurance of the social and environmental objectives of the London Games.

He also has a track record of leadership in the voluntary sector having headed up a large team for the London social regeneration charity East Potential and as the Strategic Manager for the food poverty charity The Newham Food Access Partnership. Jonathan hails from New Zealand and was educated at the University of Canterbury.

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