At Fresh Truck, Healthy Eating Is Just What the Doctor Ordered

Its FoodRx program allows healthcare providers to 'prescribe' healthy food.

Fresh Truck

Fresh Truck/photo provided

A doctor rushing from one appointment to the next can only do so much to change a patient’s habits. But a program from Fresh Truck—the low-cost farmers’ market on a bus—is making it that much easier for clinicians to help patients eat healthfully.

“It’s a pain point for healthcare providers that they can’t change the fact that their patients don’t have access to healthy food,” says Fresh Truck cofounder Josh Trautwein. “They have 15 minutes. They can’t change the environmental landscape of a community.”

What they can do, thanks to Fresh Truck, is give patients a “prescription” for nutritious food, and the means to buy it. The nonprofit’s FoodRx program allows healthcare providers, schools, housing groups, and other community organizations to purchase Fresh Truck gift cards and give them to families in need, along with instructions about what to buy.

“It’s increasing the total amount of money that they have available to spend on healthy food, without sacrificing freshness or quality, or the variety of food they have to choose from,” Trautwein explains. “Families do maintain the choice and normalcy and dignity of shopping at a grocery store.”

They also end up with fresher food. Food pantries and food rescue groups provide crucial resources, Trautwein says, but there are inevitably some tradeoffs.

“You can’t guarantee a weekly consistent variety because you’re kind of beholden to whatever you’re receiving in donations,” he says. “They rely on shelf-stable items, which is not fresh food, so you’re really compromising on nutrient density. With food rescue, you also have to compromise a little bit on freshness.” Fresh Truck’s program eliminates many of those challenges, he says.

So far, organizations using FoodRx include, among others, Boston Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, the Boston Public Health Commission, the South End Community Health Center, and Boston Public Schools. Trautwein says the organization is also trying to foster more high-level institutional partnerships, and build out an app that would streamline the prescription process.

Trautwein admits the idea behind FoodRx isn’t new—Boston Medical Center’s Preventive Food Pantry has done the same thing for years—or particularly complex. “We’re not doing brain surgery,” he laughs, “just selling fruits from a bus.”

Still, Trautwein says FoodRx has the power to further Fresh Truck’s founding mission: making nutrition an integral part of healthcare.

“Calling it a food prescription helps illustrate that narrative that food should be an integrated part of the way that healthcare providers treat patients,” Trautwein says. “For a lot of families, it helps position food as something that is foundational to health and wellness.”