Westporters know Michel Nischan as the founder and owner of The Dressing Room, the restaurant next to the Westport Country Playhouse that was local, sustainable and organic before those 3 words were trending.
But he’s also the president and CEO of Wholesome Wave Foundation, a nonprofit that helps low-income people obtain healthy, fresh and affordable locally grown food.
Plus, he’s the father of a son who, more than a decade ago, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.
That was around the time that Nischan was commuting to a fancy New York restaurant. The subway was filled with people who could not afford the expensive meals he was creating for elite, affluent diners.
That realization, he said last week on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” nearly made him quit the restaurant business entirely.
Instead, he teamed up with doctors — his son’s, and others. Nischan thought that if they could prescribe healthy food and exercise — and not simply medicine — diseases like diabetes could be controlled. And perhaps, even reversed.
Today, Wholesome Wave has piloted a program in 7 states. It offers free produce, plus tips on cooking and economizing.
At a pilot program in the Bronx, NPR said, participants receive a prescription that can be swapped for Health Bucks — $1 per day, for each person in the family — accepted at 140 farm markets in the city. That means a family of 4 gets $28 of free produce a week.
“It’s a little unusual,” admits a Lincoln Hospital pediatrician, because doctors are accustomed to writing prescriptions for drugs.
But it works. A 14-year-old girl used to gorge on chips, candy, soda and ice cream. She told NPR that she’d never eaten a pear or cantaloupe.
Over the past year, she tried peppery radishes and greens. She lost more than 20 pounds, and she thinks her taste buds are changing. “I don’t know how to explain it, but [the fresh food] tastes better.”
From his own son’s diabetes, Michel Nischan has planted the seeds of a national, wholesome wave of nutritional, wholesome eating.
To listen to the NPR “All Things Considered” interview, click here or below: