Hello and welcome to the Brain Works Kitchen! I’m Annie Fenn, a physician who writes about food and health. I’m a culinary instructor who focuses on Alzheimer’s prevention — what to eat and how to cook to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease. I’m the mother of boys, married to my college sweetheart, and passionate about the outdoors. And, I’m part of the movement to wipe out Alzheimer’s disease.
It may seem like a strange career path for an Obstetrician/Gynecologist like myself to be spending time in the kitchen teaching people how to cook. For me, it makes perfect sense. Cooking is the best way I know, as a physician, to radically improve health.
Taking care of women in my community
I was privileged to practice obstetrics and gynecology for over 20 years. I’m a Board-Certified Obstetrician Gynecologist and a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. I graduated from the Chicago Medical School/Finch University of Health Sciences and completed a four year residency in Chicago. From the day I delivered my first baby at Cook County Hospital as a third year medical student, I knew obstetrics and women’s health would be my passion. I moved to Jackson Hole shortly after residency and practiced for the next 6 years as a solo doctor. In time, I brought in partners who helped me build a women’s health center focused on obstetrics, gynecology, family practice and pediatrics.
Over the years I delivered nearly a thousand babies, cared for multiple generations of women, and specialized in menopausal health care. For the last six years of practice, I focused primarily on helping my patients go through menopause as the only certified menopausal health expert in my area and the state of Wyoming. I have always been fascinated and inspired by the women in my community who stay active, both mentally and physically, into their 70s, 80s, and beyond.
Life after medicine
When I retired from my busy practice in Jackson, Wyoming a few years ago, my primary intention was to spend more time with my family. As it turns out, I’m not very good at being “retired.” I started a website to write about food and culture in my hometown, wrote feature articles for magazines, and jumped into a newspaper column due every two weeks. Soon I was signed on as a culinary instructor at my local community college, primarily teaching folks how to cook with whole foods for optimal nutrition.
I’m a firm believer in the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Ever since I traveled to Spain as an exchange student in high school, I’ve been a passionate home cook. I honed my cooking skills by attending culinary schools in Italy, France, Mexico, and at the Culinary Institute of America. But most of my cooking experience has been at home in my own kitchen, cooking whole foods from scratch for my family. For years I led the crazy, unpredictable life of an obstetrician, yet was still committed to getting a healthful dinner on the table each night. Well, most nights! Let’s just say I did my best, and I learned dozens of ways to be more efficient in the kitchen.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Pollan when he came to Jackson Hole as the keynote speaker for a wellness event. Considered the voice of the modern food movement, he is the bestselling author of many books, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. I was also privileged to interview another food hero of mine — food luminary Dr. Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics. Dr. Nestle coined the term “food environment,” meaning we tend to eat what surrounds us. This has turned out to be an important concept for me as I teach people how to eat to prevent Alzheimer’s. The first thing we focus on is clearing out the fridge, freezer and pantry of the foods that are not good for brain health.
Brain Works cooking classes
I began teaching Brain Works cooking classes in 2015 as part of an 8-week dementia prevention course created by Dr. Martha Stearn of the Cognitive Health Institute of St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming. Brain Works participants learn to incorporate healthy habits into their daily routines based on the latest Alzheimer’s prevention research. Besides cooking with brain healthy foods, students learn how to prevent cognitive decline with movement, mindfulness, meditation, brain games and good sleep hygiene.
The response to Brain Works has been tremendous. People are worried about cognitive decline. Everywhere I go, I meet people who are touched by the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease. As the baby boomer population moves into older age groups in unprecedented numbers, epidemiologists are predicting an epidemic of Alzheimer’s and dementia. I’ve taught Brain Works cooking classes to hundreds of motivated students who want to reduce their risk and improve their cognitive function as they age. (Learn more about Brain Works cooking classes and the dementia prevention program here.)
People always ask me if I miss practicing medicine. Taking care of women as a physician is a huge honor and a privilege, and I loved every minute. Well, almost every minute! (Physicians work very hard, often sacrificing sleep, time with family, and even their health.) But just as I helped so may women during key life stages, I now want to help us all cultivate healthy habits to keep our brains thriving as we age. Spending time in the kitchen helping busy people eat better is more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined.
Life in Jackson Hole
I live at the base of the Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming with my husband, two teenage boys, Jack and Nick, and two hunting dogs, Orzo and Rosie. A key facet of staying sharp later in life is to be engaged in physical activity, mental challenges, and social connections. You could say I’ve taken that to heart. I started the area’s first cookbook club — a group of passionate home cooks who gather to learn about new food and cultures by cooking from a cookbook or taking a class. I love spending time in the mountains and valley where I live, hiking, biking, skiing, fly-fishing and paddling in and around Jackson Hole. I’ve organized hiking groups, skiing groups, coffee clubs, food festivals, special dinner events, and cooking classes with talented chefs. I am part of the movement to reduce food waste and food insecurity in my community. And I am constantly trying to learn new things to build up my cognitive reserve — another key concept in Alzheimer’s prevention. My learning agenda for the coming year involves getting out of my comfort zone by taking dance classes, developing a daily meditation practice, and honing my neglected Spanish and Italian language skills.
A community of brain healthy foodies
I created the Brain Works Kitchen for you — my cooking students, patients, friends, family, fellow food enthusiasts and Baby Boomers. The Brain Works Kitchen is for you to use and to share with everyone you love. To learn more about what the website has in store, visit my welcome page here.
If ever in Jackson Hole, be sure to say hello. Thanks for stopping by the Brain Works Kitchen!
For inquiries about speaking engagements and Brain Works cooking classes, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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