Interview with Karen Pearl, President and CEO, God’s Love We Deliver

by Cameron St. Germain

Karen Pearl, President and CEO, God’s Love We Deliver

Karen Pearl has been President & CEO of God’s Love We Deliver for over 10 years. Since its founding in 1985, God’s Love provides the food and nutrition services required by those living with severe and chronic illnesses such as HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, end stage renal disease and advanced diabetes.

During her tenure, the services at God’s Love have grown more than 150%, with over 1.7 million meals cooked and home-delivered each year. Karen has grown advocacy capacity significantly to ensure access to services for those most in need, and has led the organization in various research projects (on HIV/AIDS and cancer, as well as overall healthcare cost reduction). She is the leader of the Food is Medicine Coalition, a national volunteer association of nonprofit, medically-tailored food and nutrition services (FNS) providers seeking to integrate FNS into healthcare for the critically and/or chronically ill.

Karen recently co-authored the Food Is Medicine Advocacy Toolkit with the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, and a chapter entitled, “Food is Medicine: The Ryan White Food and Nutrition Services Program as a Model for Comprehensive Food and Nutrition Services in the United States,” in the book, published in June 2015, Health of HIV Infected People: Food, Nutrition and Lifestyle with Antiretroviral Drugs.

Prior to joining God’s Love, Karen served as the Interim President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and as President & CEO of Planned Parenthood of Nassau County. Before that, Karen was the Executive Director of the Literacy Assistance Center. She also served as the Director of Advisement, Health, and Learning Disabilities at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY. Karen holds a B.A. in Psychology from Cornell University and an M.A. in Counseling from New York University.

Where you grew up: I grew up in a suburb on Long Island.

Where you live now: I live in lower Westchester, a short commute to Manhattan.

Background and education: I’ve spent my whole career in the nonprofit sector, first as a teacher, then as a counselor, and, for a long time now,  as an administrator. My counseling degree has served me well in leading people and organizations.

Food policy/food as medicine hero: Everyone who fights to ensure that all people have access to healthy food every day.

One word to describe our food system: Inequitable.

One word to describe our healthcare system: Evolving.

Your favorite food: Shrimp.

Your breakfast this morning: Coffee with milk, as always.

Your last meal on earth: Dinner around the dining room table, with candles and music, and lots of family and friends.

Must-have healing food/ingredient: Chicken soup.

Food policy, health, food as medicine book, website(s) social media/blog must-follow/read: I read many sources, from the NYTimes to the Food Is Medicine Coalition on Twitter (@fimcoalition) to WhyHunger and the NYC Food Policy info. I also subscribe to almost every cooking magazine and website and to many health newsletters. Reading recipes and then cooking from them is my bliss. And I would be remiss if I didn’t add that I follow God’s Love We Deliver on Instagram and Twitter @godslovenyc!

Your elevator pitch for food as medicine? Medically tailored meals (MTM) promote better health outcomes, reduce healthcare costs and lead to greater patient satisfaction. MTM is a low-cost, high impact intervention that should be part of mainstream healthcare for those living with severe and chronic illness.

Which widespread nutritional misconceptions worry you the most? It worries me that people think that good nutrition is “simple” and that all we have to do is tell people how to eat better and they’ll be healthier. It’s hard to get it right, and even harder if you’re sick and need a special diet.

What do you see as the next step for food as medicine? We must change healthcare policy to integrate social determinants of health, especially healthy food for those who are food insecure and medicalky-tailored meals for those who are sick. We won’t drive down healthcare costs if we don’t do this!

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