On a recent freezing day in Des Moines, the DMU wellness teaching kitchen was the right place to be: Four kettles of soup, homemade bread and a green salad awaited a noon-hour group who were there for a lunch-and-learn on cooking the tasty meal at home. At the helm was David Spreadbury, Ph.D., professor emeritus and former chair of biochemistry and nutrition.
“It’s brass monkey weather out there. Having a hot pot of soup is really nice,” he said.
Dr. Spreadbury is more than an enthusiastic cook. He was instrumental in the evolution of DMU’s wellness program from its infancy to its current status as the nation’s first and only university or college to earn platinum status, the highest recognition granted by the Wellness Councils of America. He was influential in recruiting the University’s first and still-director of the wellness program, Joy Schiller, M.S., CHES; the two natural allies successfully campaigned for the wellness center to include the teaching kitchen.
“Students were saying to me, ‘We understand nutrition, but what are we supposed to eat?'” he recalled. That led to the creation of a healthy nutrition and cooking elective for DMU’s osteopathic medical students, likely one of the first such courses among medical schools, that Dr. Spreadbury taught with the wellness staff and other faculty for many years. His mantra then and now is the advice of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto and other books, to “eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Dr. Spreadbury’s goal is helping people understand that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or costly, that experimentation is perfectly fine and that nutritional meals can be delicious.
That was the case in the soup session. He outlined the basic ingredients – onion, potato, canola oil, garlic if you like it and – for that perfect touch of savory umami magic – vegetable stock or miso. He encouraged session attendees to then get creative, adding additional vegetables, beans or whole-grain pasta.
“If you’re not a cook, soup is a good place to start,” he said. “Tell yourself, ‘I’m in charge! I can do anything I like.'”
There was a lot to like during that lunch-and-learn. Participants enjoyed fresh-from-the-oven bread made with New York Times columnist Mark Bittman’s no-knead recipe. A delicious dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic and pepper graced the salad.
“When you make this, the aroma coming out of the bowl will knock your socks off,” Dr. Spreadbury said. “You could eat grass with this dressing.”