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Making fresh, local food -- the healthy alternative for hospitals

The Globe and Mail ran a very interesting Saturday cover story on plans to increase fresh, nutritious, local, and hospital cooked food at Scarborough Hospital. It deserves quotation.

"People in power have begun to recognize the link between health and good food, and believe it should be heeded in a place that caters to the ailing. Paradoxically, hospital patients are fed some of the nation’s cheapest food – each meal costs less than three dollars per person. Much of it goes into the trash: About 40 per cent of what kitchens dish out is rejected. Administrators everywhere are struggling with this and low patient satisfaction; many admit they would never feed their families the low-budget food their kitchens serve to patients....

"The most tantalizing prospect involves adding fresh or local foods and returning to scratch cooking. Most Canadian hospitals have long since given up the basics, such as distilling soup stock from simmered bones, in favour of convenient powdered mixes. Some have gutted kitchens altogether, lured by the 30-per-cent labour cost savings that comes with installing what the industry terms “kitchen-less” systems. These consist mainly of 're-thermalization' units used to reheat food that is prepared offsite in massive kitchens. They formulate nutritionally correct meals with scientific precision.

"These systems, which gained popularity in the 1980s, are “the only way of operating an efficient food service operation within the funding envelope of the Canadian Public Health Care system,” according to material published by Burlodge, a large meal delivery equipment vendor.

"Ms. Maharaj’s mission (at Scarborough Hospital) is to prove that scratch cooking is a feasible panacea in this publicly funded, cash-strapped system. She’ll try to do it by shifting the hospital’s procurement – when it’s cheaper – to produce certified by the sustainability inspection group Local Food Plus. She imagines a pot of curry on the fire to appeal to multicultural tastes; recipes will be sent up to patients on friendly prescription-type cards so they can replicate them at home.

"She has her work cut out for her: Hospital kitchens have long been seen as little more than a cost-centre ripe for cutbacks. That she has taken on the challenge is already a small victory for the food movement, which has long eyed the health and education systems as avenues for democratization. “Food needs a champion. It needs someone to fight for it,” she said. “What you eat directly impacts your health and recuperation.”

"The reams of studies documenting this led the hospital to hire Ms. Maharaj after winning a $191,000 grant from the provincial government and the Greenbelt Fund.... Propelling the effort is the belief that nutritious food is a public-health tool, one that can address many of the issues that cause illness – obesity, heart disease, diabetes – and drive up healthcare costs."

A tray holding a hospital lunch is pictured at Scarborough General Hospital on Friday June 24, 2011.

Sophia Lynton prepares sanwiches in the kitchen at Scarborough Hospital in Scarborough, Ont., June 15, 2011.OCHU is campaigning for fresh, local and nutritious food, cooked and prepared in local hospital kitchens.

Leslie Carson, manager of food and nutrition at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph, a 330-bed facility adds, “People underestimate how conventional cooking really gives your employees a sense of creation.… there is no joy in unpacking frozen lasagna from a box. But there is joy in making something from scratch.”

We have all had enough ready-prepared food made in distant, corporate food factories.


  1. "...there is no joy in unpacking frozen lasagna from a box."

    Dietary workers have been morphed into factory workers, not FOOD SERVICE workers. It's difficult to take pride in one's work when it's no longer created by you.

    "...prove that scratch cooking is a feasible panacea in this publicly funded, cash-strapped system. She’ll try to do it by shifting the hospital’s procurement – when it’s cheaper – to produce certified by the sustainability inspection group Local Food Plus."

    It absolutely is possible. Most families purchase according to what's seasonally available, therefore cheaper. Restaurants often do the same thing...offer seasonal menus. It would likely save hospitals money to co-ordinate menu planning in the same manner.

    We all know a healthy diet is pinnacle to a healthy lifestyle so it only stands to reason that hospitals should be leaders in setting that standard.


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