Don’t Play With Your Food – Learn With It!
Using food diagrams to teach anatomy online
Malini Gupta | | 3 min read | Opinion
An accidental incident can lead you down the path of discovery. I am a busy mother and endocrinologist in the US. One morning, I decided to make pancakes before school. The first two pancakes merged, looking like cell division. I embraced the accident, and I quickly made one child a plate of “Prophase and Metaphase” and “Anaphase and Telophase” for the other. One of the children had been studying cell division in school that week, and he was captivated by what he was going to eat. By the end of the week, I realized that both children retained the information presented at breakfast, and I started using mealtimes to sneak in a little science.
Shortly after this, I attended the Harvard Medical School Media and Medicine program in Boston. There, I realized that I could be utilizing social media as a teaching tool for medical concepts. I started making anatomy, physiology, and histology images from fruits, vegetables and grains, and posting the images to Instagram and Twitter. “Renal omelette” caught the attention of a team of nephrologists and it was used in a paper published in the “Journal of Nephrology”. My son boasts that he ate it. “The Ophthalmologist” published 10 neurology and ocular images of mine in 2020. In the clinic, I found that patients loved the images, because they were colorful, and they could relate to fruits and vegetables – everyone speaks the language of food. It became easier to explain concepts through food images.
With the rise in popularity of social media platforms, healthcare professionals and students have access to a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and resources that can enhance their education and training. Social media can facilitate discussion and collaboration between medical professionals. It can also bring them closer to professionals in other fields. My food art has helped me foster relationships with other artists, chefs, and people who are afflicted by different medical issues. We learn from each other on social media.
Social media platforms could be helping medical and other professional organizations, including professional societies and their journals, to improve their visibility. In 2022, I was appointed to a new committee for the American Thyroid Association – the Social Media and Communications Committee. Our committee is eager to work with other professional organizations to learn better ways we can capture attention and improve health information.
While social media can be a powerful teaching tool for medicine, it is open to abuse. Social media also presents challenges related to the accuracy and reliability of the information shared. Misinformation, or the spread of false or misleading information increases confusion and anxiety when individuals and communities do not know what to believe. Healthcare professionals can play a role in combating misinformation by providing accurate and reliable evidence-based information. This helps promote and improve health literacy.
My medical food art project has come with unexpected difficulties. Within an hour of posting one of the first images I created, I found that people had removed my name from the art to pass it off as their own work. I learned to watermark every image with a curved watermark embedded into the art piece so that they are difficult to doctor. I also learned to cross-post the images, so that there was a second time stamp on each image. Despite these measures, someone tried to clone my entire Instagram page, and pass off my work as their own. It took Instagram a week to resolve the issue.
As social media evolves, medical and lab professionals must stay creative and open to learning new techniques and ways to capture the attention of all people–medical and non-medical. Using art and food has been a great way to exercise my skills, and I am looking forward to new ways of presenting information using the food medium. I look forward to collaborating with other medical professionals, artists, chefs, and information technology experts to advance medicine.
Malini Gupta is Director of G2Endo, Endocrinology and Metabolism, in Memphis, Tennessee. She is the recipient of the 2022 American Association of Clinical Endocrinology Excellence in the Humanities Award for her work promoting education of endocrine concepts through the arts.