For institutions looking to advocate for cleaner, healthier food and food access across the board, we recommend starting at home. Hospitals and other health care providers are in powerful positions to change the food system because of their sheer size. Every year, hospitals invest billions into food economies to provide for their patients. By changing only one food sourcing contract to include more local, healthy, and sustainable producers, institutions not only offer better options for their patients, but also increase demand for better food exponentially. A contract with a large institution can sustain local small-to-midsize farmers that would otherwise be swallowed by the industrial food system.

However, purchasing contracts and food distribution is a complicated chain. There are a number of steps institutions can take to decipher the chain and move towards better sourcing for food service.

 

pledge icon1. Start with a Pledge

The first step institutions can take is to publicly commit to new goals in food purchasing. Healthy Food in Health Care offers a pledge for hospitals that outlines steps to be taken by the health care industry to improve the health of patients, communities and the environment. Hospitals can find the pledge here.

2. Make a Baseline Assessment

Before changing food procurement strategies, institutions should take the time to figure out how much of their current purchasing is sustainable. The best way to do this is with a baseline assessment and use of a progress tracking tool. For example, the Balanced Menus Tracking Tool is tailored towards meat and poultry products.

3. Determine Goals and Focus Areas

There are a number of places in food procurement that work well as the first step towards sustainable purchasing. The Ecology Center encourages setting a goal in one of the following focus areas, around which we offer assistance and resources through Healthy Food in Health Care.

 
  • Increasing Local and Sustainable Purchasing:
    Through collaborations with regional distribution networks like the Eastern Market Wholesale Market, we can help your institution figure out how to add more local food to your dining options. Buying local encourages regional prosperity and reduces carbon emissions from transportation. HFHC offers a webinar for a more detailed explanation of the benefits of local food and purchasing guides from for products ranging from poultry to coffee. For Michigan-specific purchasing guides, check out Cultivate Michigan.
     
  • Reducing Meat Consumption:
    The majority of Americans' meat comes from industrialized factory farms, which are problematic in a number of ways, including their overuse of antibiotics which leads to increased incidence of antibiotic-resistant disease. HFHC encourages a two-prong approach to attacking this problem via food service purchasing. Through the Balanced Menus initiative, hospitals are encouraged to set a goal around reducing overall meat consumption, and translating those cost-savings into the purchase of meat raised without the use of antibiotics and other chemicals. Access HFHC Balanced Menu resources, including tracking tools, purchasing guides and best practices, here
     
  • Serving Fewer Unhealthy Beverages:
    One of the easiest changes for institutions to make is to stop offering sugary drinks and sodas. Even seemingly "healthy" options like packaged smoothies often contain an incredible amount of added sugar. Drinks like these are widely recognized as one of the causes of the increased prevalence obesity and associated diseases in America, as well as a large contributor to packaging waste. HFHC offers audit and tracking tools, as well as best practice guides for reducing unhealthy beverage purchasing here.
     

4. Educate the Professionals and the Community

Hospitals not only have a large economic impact but can also leverage their positions as trusted advisors. The powerful voices of healthcare professionals are vital to this work which is why the Ecology Center offers programs and resources on the best practices for discussing these issues.

That's done in part through the Health Leader's Fellowship Program, a 12-week workshop that teaches healthcare leaders how to connect environmental and health issues when speaking to patients and the media.

Published on February 24, 2017

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