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.
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.
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.
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.
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 9-month fellowship program that teaches healthcare leaders how to connect environmental and health issues when speaking to patients, health care leadership, and policy makers.
Published on February 24, 2017