Good, Clean and Fair Food in Hospitals?
There is a food revolution going on in American hospitals. And, just like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, it has not always been easy or welcome. In the Bay Area, Kaiser Permanente is often viewed as the leader of the healthy food in hospitals movement but alongside this health care giant, another local hospital has been quietly working to change how patients eat. In 2002 John Muir Medical Center hired Alison Negrin as its Executive Chef. Alison is a member of Slow Food Delta Diablo and has been working on a revolution of her own.

Alison came to JMMC with a good pedigree. She cut her teeth at Chez Panisse. Soon after, she was hired as executive chef to open Bridges Restaurant in Danville and later opened Ginger Island in Berkeley. After many years of creating unique menus for upscale establishments, why would anyone give up a glamorous career as a star chef to work in food service in a hospital?

“It was a challenge that clicked with her sense of food as a healing force, and of the chef as a kind of shaman in a cook's jacket. A chance to redeem the cooking in a soulless high-rise packed with the weak and the vulnerable, where food had come to mean little more than mystery meat and Jell-O cups. Negrin, who'd taken blind leaps before, said yes.” In eight years she has transformed the food service at JMMC to one featuring healthy, delicious tasting meals. Alison is a pioneer in the healthy hospitals movement. She creates meals at JMMC featuring seasonal, locally sourced fresh foods. Good. Clean. Fair.

In addition to local sourcing Alison has been experimenting lately with less meat on the menu. JMMC was one of four hospitals that took part in a one-year pilot project to see if they could reduce costs and serve healthy meals by reducing meat on the menus. The food services bought less industrially-raised meat overall and used the savings to buy grass-fed beef and free-range poultry. Johns Hopkins University just released a study of the Bay Area pilot project. It found that the four hospitals were able to reduce meat purchases by more than 171,000 pounds, saving them $400,000 in their annual food budgets.

It only makes sense for hospitals around the country to make changes in their food service. Poor nutrition and the obesity crisis have led hospitals to reevaluate their own practices and many are choosing to model eating behavior for their patients using on-site food services. “Obesity is the outcome of a failed food system,” says Jamie Harvie, Director of the Institute for a Sustainable Future and coordinator of the Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) Campaign for the international coalition Health Care Without Harm. “Our food system is largely reliant on methods of production and distribution that negatively affect social and environmental health--and by extension, human health. These effects are no less important than nutrition. Hospitals can use their buying power to increase demand for sustainably grown food and thus have a system-wide positive effect on public health.” Health care is a powerful market force. Hospitals spend about $12 billion a year on food and beverages.

In 2008, Diablo Magazine wrote a feature article on Alison and the changes she has been making at JMMC. In it they interviewed David Loveall. Dave is “a bit of a hospital food expert, having lived through stays at a number of facilities. Unlike when he was hospitalized in San Francisco and had his family bring him meals from outside, he has nothing but praise for the food he was served at John Muir’s Walnut Creek campus. A seafood lover, he singles out the tilapia and ‘really delicious’ grilled salmon he ate during a prolonged stay in John Muir’s physical rehab unit earlier this year. ‘They cook it just right,’ chimes in his wife, Linda. Then there are great grains and lots of fruits and vegetables, the Lovealls say. ‘I think the food helped me get well faster,’ David says, echoing similar compliments from other patients.”

The prospect of large institutions like hospitals sourcing locally is exciting for local farmers. Although many are not yet able to meet the needs of such large buyers, the buzz is getting out and some farmers are responding. The idea of a local food economy is something Slow Food Delta Diablo supports. With members in Contra Costa County ranging from chefs to farmers to members of local CSAs, the chapter has made part of their mission educating people about local foods.

In 2004, Moira Beery and Mark Vallianatos wrote a research paper for the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College entitled “Farm to Hospital. Promoting Health and Supporting Local Agriculture.” This research served as a blueprint for the current healthy hospital movement. Since that time, Kaiser Permanente has established over 40 farmers’ markets at their hospitals across the country while working to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into their patient meals and visitor cafes. Many other hospitals, like the John Muir Medical Center, are doing the same thing on a smaller, more local scale. Please join your Slow Food friends to learn about the healthy hospitals movement and how people in your community are addressing the challenges of feeding patients healthy fresh foods.

An Evening At The Hospital - 8/13/10

Join John Muir Health System Executive Chef Alison Negrin and colleagues
in a discussion of the successes and challenges of bringing healthy,
sustainable food to health care.

Panel includes:
Alison Negrin
Patty Campbell, lead clinical RD at John Muir Concord
Lucia Sayre, Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility
Temra Costa, author of Farmer Jane

Optional kitchen tours start at 5:30. Panel discussion starts at 6:15.
Following the panel, we will enjoy a delicious, healthy hospital meal
including sample patient and cafeteria items, local wine, and Frog Hollow Farm seasonal fruit pastries.

When: Friday, August 13, 2010, 5:30 pm

Where: John Muir Medical Center, Concord Campus
Pleasant Hill Room
2540 East St., Concord, CA

Cost: $20 Slow Food member / $25 non Slow Food member

Tickets, Further Info:

For your member discount at Brown Paper Tickets enter the code “slow” and save $5 on the price of admission.

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Comment by Nelda H Braver on August 5, 2010 at 1:50pm
Count me in. It was good to see you at the Green Business lunch. Great blog sharing.
Comment by Lucile Meinhardt on August 4, 2010 at 6:13pm
It is not from my blog; it is from Slow Food Delta Diablo's blog written by Gail Wadsworth. Please see:

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