10 Years, 10 Stories: Drs. Mary-Lynn Niland and Derek McClellan

In celebration of Local Matters' 10th anniversary, we are taking some time to reflect. Where have we come from? Who has nurtured our growth? Where are we now? What will the future hold? These are questions we have asked ten friends of Local Matters - ten people who have truly shaped the organization to be what it is today. Today's story comes from a conversation with Drs. Mary-Lynn Niland and Derek McClellan – two people who have helped shape Local Matters’ growth and understanding of the connection between food and medicine.


When Mary-Lynn Niland and Derek McClellan sit down with their patients' families at their practice, Step by Step Pediatrics, they talk about the 80-20 rule. "Eighty percent healthy foods. Twenty percent not-as-healthy foods," Mary-Lynn summarizes.  As pediatricians, they know how hard it can be for parents to navigate the confusing misinformation about nutrition that is marketed to families. Part of their job is to not add stress or guilt to busy, well-intentioned parents. They strive to give their patients tools to work towards a whole food, minimally-processed diet.  

Nearly a decade ago, the couple met Michael Jones during an excursion to North Market. As often happens in meetings with Michael, they started talking about the connection between food and health. “[We talked about] how families don’t know how to feed their kids healthfully, and the role that pediatricians could play in remedying that,” shared Mary-Lynn. Ultimately, Mary-Lynn joined Local Matters’ Board of Directors to further the conversation.

During the early days of Local Matters, much of the organization’s success was the product of individual champions who understood the relationship between food and health and wanted to share it with others. Mary-Lynn and Derek saw this connection clearly and encouraged the organization to pursue more work within the healthcare sector. Because of that, the culinary medicine program took root. As Derek explains, “If everyone in the healthcare field had medically-based culinary education, then medicine would be more focused on prevention than treatment.”

Mary-Lynn agrees about the importance of culinary medicine education, noting that “two-thirds of morbidity, mortality, and chronic illness is related to diet. We're really good at trying to medicate these problems, but no treatment is as effective as prevention.” The problems exist across demographics, as Mary-Lynn and Derek witness every day. “When you see people who do have the resources to feed their kids properly struggling to do so, you can imagine how hard it is for the people who don’t have the resources. That’s why Local Matters’ work is so important.”

As doctors, Mary-Lynn and Derek are exploring ways to help prevention efforts and reverse trends of early-onset diet-related disease. They lead wellness workshops and classes through one arm of their practice, Step by Step Wellness, and operate a social media page that shares information and tips about making healthy family meals reach the table - “What’s McClellan Cooking.” They take what they know as doctors and as parents, and combine it into accessible wisdom for anyone trying to eat, cook, and live healthier. “It’s simple to cook at home and eat real food,” Derek shares. Mary-Lynn adds,

Let a carrot be a carrot. Simple food prepared simply is the best food.

Local Matters’ programming and philosophy around the connection between food and health is heavily influenced by Mary-Lynn Niland and Derek McClellan. They continue to demonstrate their dedication to Local Matters’ mission of creating healthy communities through food education, access, and advocacy – giving tirelessly their time, energy, and expertise. For that, and for so much more, we thank them.