“We've seen people decide not to take anti-retroviral medication because they can’t eat or don’t have access to food, and this affects their HIV viral load and overall health."
~ Dr. Peter Centre dietitian Fiona Kwan
Why food is so critical for people living with HIV
Humans are made for food. Without food, anxiety ensues - just watch a hungry baby. With food, the world looks new.
For those who are marginalized and living with HIV, food isn’t always at hand.
In 2018, Dr. Christiana Miewald led a Food as Harm Reduction study which examined the relationships between HIV, substance use, and diet. Conducted at various support centres in the Lower Mainland, including the Dr. Peter Centre, 88% of survey respondents reported some level of food insecurity, with 47% experiencing severe food insecurity.
“Your psychological perception of how safe you are can be affected,” says Dr. Peter Centre dietitian Fiona Kwan. “One client told me ‘I just have an orange and my anxiety goes down 80%’. Having food means you’re able to make your doctor’s appointment. It takes living to another level.”
Tackling HIV one bite at a time
In 2019, our kitchen staff served about 73,500 meals to 393 participants in the Day Health Program, plus another 55 in the residential program.
Our in-house dietitian works with our professional chef to create healthy meals that meet the necessary nutritional requirements. Menus are developed that are palatable for our participant needs, and the food is served by staff members who are friendly and upbeat, aiding in the overall atmosphere of a friendly and open community.
Supporting our food program does more than feed people
Embedded in the program is a multi-disciplinary team of professionals who assist in building the bridge from a “food only” program, into a “food as harm reduction” program.
Our team of registered clinical counsellors (including our music as well as art and recreation therapists) attend meal time to build and maintain relationships. This provides opportunities for on-the-spot therapeutic, yet casual conversation. This “activity-based counselling” works well for participants, who have often experienced harsh treatment and stigma when in traditional health institution settings.
In these ways, food becomes the gateway to clinical and therapeutic services, all of which provide opportunities for people to take an active role in their mental and physiological health.
Holistic approach includes the whole body
Caring for the whole person means the Dr. Peter Centre gives careful thought to all personal needs.
This reflects our consideration of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
The Centre provides all participants with easy, simple, and stigma-free access to the most basic personal hygiene resources - such as laundry and showers.
This ensures participants can engage with others in the broader community with both dignity and hope for the future.