FoodMed 2007 Was All About Potential
By Chris Landry
FoodMed 2007 (www.foodmed.org), a conference for the US healthcare industry sponsored by HealthCare Without Harm, was all about potential. The conference was held in Boston in late June.
Overall impressions: all hospitals and health care professionals know that good food promotes wellness. Many are concerned about the public health risks of the pesticides and antibiotics used in conventional food production. Some are determined to reduce the carbon footprint of their institutions. A growing number are taking action.
Despite some logistical challenges, there is real potential for US food companies interested in working with hospitals to improve the nutritional value and environmental sustainability of their menus.
One of those logistical challenges, of course, is money, and Dr. Hugh Joseph of Tufts talked about the need for hospitals to start seeing food not as a lowest-bid commodity but as an investment in the health of their patients, staffs, and institutions.
Fortunately, some hospitals are beginning to adopt a more thoughtful approach to food. The Kaiser Permanente facilities in California, for example, are working with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers to source local produce. Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Massachusetts is also buying more local product – and is saving money in the process.
Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vermont is one of many hospitals that have signed the “Healthy Food in Health Care” pledge promoted by Healthcare Without Harm. They’ve taken a number of steps, from removing all deep fryers from the facility to switching to local rBST-free milk.
Food Lab member Mike Hamm of Michigan State University was the conference keynote speaker. One of the most interesting things he shared was the use of
hoop houses (long double-covered plastic tunnels with a fan that creates an air space) that allow almost year-round growing in the north. Such structures could enable farmers to supply local food for institutions such as schools and hospitals, especially if farmers could sign contracts with buyers that would enable them to access financing.
Other things we saw and learned:
- Obesity and diabetes are epidemic in the US, and Dr. Alan Meyers of the BU Medical School gave an impassioned talk about the links between high fructose corn syrup and fast food meals with the fattening of America.
- The American Dietetic Association has put out a position paper and a primer on sustainable food for nutrition professionals.
- The Better Hospital Food Project in London has developed a popular online database of recipes that hospitals can use to prepare healthier menus. It could be a model for a similar web site in the US.
- Better tasting, more nutritious, and environmentally sustainable food is being seen by many hospitals as a competitive advantage, which is helping some food service directors argue for higher budgets.
- Better food means less food waste, which saves money. Lots of hospitals are switching to room service, which allows patients to choose what they want to eat. Interest in compost is growing, as is interest in compostable dinner ware.
Overall, hospitals seem increasingly ready to talk with their food suppliers about changing the ways they do business. We think it’s time to develop some creative pilot projects that meet the needs of these institutions.
Last Updated (Thursday, 04 March 2010 15:54)