Local Foods in Healthcare: Promoting a Stronger Community

Maintaining health and well-being is a main goal of hospitals and long-term care homes.  Incorporating local foods into healthcare institution menus not only aligns with this mission remarkably but can lead to healthier patients and communities.

Benefits of Local Food Use in Healthcare Institutions

There are lots of benefits to using local foods on the menu in hospitals and long-term care homes. Here are just a few:

          Increased patient satisfaction and nutrition

Studies show that patients are pleased to hear that the ingredients for their meal came from a local farm, and this can have a positive effect on comfort and meal satisfaction ratings.1

Local foods can also provide better nutrition for patients as they are more likely to be fresh. Better nutrition can lead to quicker recovery rates and shorter hospital stays, which can lessen the burden on healthcare systems.

          Stronger support for the provincial economy

Buying local food for healthcare institutions means more business for local food producers and farmers.  It also strengthens relationships between managers in healthcare and local farmers, uniting our community.

          Smaller carbon footprint

Food travels a shorter distance when obtained locally, which reduces fuel use, carbon emissions, and pollution during transport.

 Strategies for Successful Local Food Use

Now that we know why local foods are a great component of healthcare menus, what is being done to encourage and increase local food use in our institutions?

In a 2018 study, Emily Linton and colleagues set out to determine key influences and key strategies for successful local food use in Ontario healthcare institutions.2 They interviewed stakeholders from multiple areas of the food system and revealed practical actions that helped healthcare institutions get more local foods into patient meals.

Here are a few strategies they found were key to success:

          Local food lists

If you were a food service manager looking to purchase local food for the hospital, wouldn’t it be easier if you had a list clearly indicating available local foods?

This is the role of a local food list—to group foods grown or produced in Ontario, all in one place.  Hospitals and long-term care homes can ask their group purchasing organizations (the organizations through which they buy their food items) to update their food product list to include local foods.

          Local frozen produce

Local produce availability can change with the season, but many healthcare institution menus do not.  One solution is local frozen produce, which is available year-round.

           Using in-season produce

Another solution is using produce that is in season, as it often comes at a lower cost.

 Success in the Field: Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care

Local food is being used by healthcare institutions right here in London!

One institution helping set the example is Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care.  They buy fresh, in-season produce from local farmers including sweet corn, field tomatoes, and peaches.  Beef, turkey, bread, eggs, and some dairy products are also purchased locally.

Mount Hope is also partnering with NOURISH, a non-profit organization, on a project to facilitate buying local and managing food waste.

Knowing the benefits, influences, and strategies to implement local food use is crucial for decision-makers in healthcare institutions to accomplish it successfully.  It is important to keep the conversation going to gain new perspectives and innovations to support buying local.

Written by Serenah Jafelice

Painting by Serenah Jafelice

References

  1. Trinca V, Duizer L, Keller H. Putting quality food on the tray: factors associated with patients’ perceptions of the hospital food experience. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2021 Jun 25; 00: 1-13. doi:10.1111/jhn.12929
  2. Linton E, Keller H, Duizer L. Ingredients for success: strategies to support local food use in health care institutions. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2018 Sep 1; 79(3): 113-117. doi:10.3148/cjdpr-2018-008

About the Author:  Serenah Jafelice is a volunteer with the MLFPC. She has a passion for healthy living and volunteers with various community groups and healthcare charities.  She has completed an Honours Specialization in Biology with a Minor in Genetics at Western University.  She is intrigued by the overlap between healthy eating, medicine, and lifestyle.  She loves communicating scientific information in a way that is easy to understand and helps people better their lives.

Interview with Nadine Castonguay, EnviroWestern Garden Executive and Food System Champion 2021

Nadine Castonguay, EnviroWestern Garden Executive at Western University, was selected as a Food System Champion in 2021.

Recently, Nadine led the development of the community garden located at Western University. She worked with various stakeholders across campus to organize a new and more visible location for the EnviroWestern Garden and took care of the land from watering and weeding to managing student volunteers throughout the summer. You can learn more about her positive impact on the local food system at mlfpc.ca/foodchampions.

Q: What drew you into doing work in the food system?

A: My passions for food and the environment collide. I wanted to create a system on campus to facilitate knowledge generation and dissemination where the community could come to understand the complex dynamics of our food including the links between the economic, social, and environmental elements of how food is sourced.

Q: What do you like most about your food system work?  

A: My favourite part about food system work is the actual production of something that provides us with what we need to sustain human life. It’s crazy that we can produce outputs that contain nutrients that allow us to thrive. I appreciate that without the food system, we would not survive.

Q: What works well in Middlesex London to support your work?

A: I appreciate that there is a growing community of individuals who want to see more organic and locally sourced food available. There is a market of opportunity for new businesses to venture into sustainable agriculture.

Q: Are there local challenges that make your job more difficult?

A: There are significant barriers for new farmers such as increased land prices, the lack of knowledge around the definition of sustainable food production, and what it looks like to have a sustainable food production operation.

Q: What would you like to see in our local community to strengthen our food system?

A: I would like to see a greater emphasis on allowing individuals to grow and produce their own food in the city. For example, having more rooftop gardens, increasing the number of community gardens, and developing agricultural opportunities in neighbourhoods within London.

Global Food, Local Perspectives: Momos at the Market

For this first segment of our food and culture project, we will be interviewing the owner and chef of Momos at the Market, Yam Gurung. Momo’s at the market serves healthy but delicious traditional Nepalese food at the London Food Incubator and the Western Fair’s Farmers Market. Specializing in Momos (meat or vegetable-filled dumplings), this restaurant has been serving London locals for over 12 years.

Yam, born and raised in Nepal started his culinary journey around the age of 8-9 years old. By age 12, he had left home to start cooking in restaurants and has worked in the food industry ever since. After working in multiple restaurants, Yam felt inspired and motivated to help fellow new immigrants get situated comfortably in Canada. Upon reflection on his own experiences, he wanted to provide new immigrants opportunities that are not always readily available. One essential value for Yam in creating Momos at the market was providing new immigrants with training and adding to their skillset in preparation for future employment. Yam has made it a point to treat his employees with respect, regardless of their cultural background or duration of time in Canada, including fair payment of employees.

Yam’s food philosophy is simple: sell what you eat. He would not sell food that he doesn’t find delicious, meaning you’ll always be in for a treat at Momos. In addition, Yam finds importance in connecting with the community and purchasing ingredients from local producers. Being located at the Western Fair Market and the London Food Incubator has helped Yam connect further with the community. When he began his journey at the Western Fair market, Yam indicated that he didn’t know anyone in the food industry. No one was there to teach him the ropes about the restaurant business. However, through perseverance in pursuit of bringing his homeland’s cuisine to London, he pressed on, and thus we see the Momos at the market we have today.

When asked why it is crucial to learn about other people’s food and culture, Yam replied that that’s how you get to know people. Food in itself is a language, and by trying and understanding people’s food and culture, you build community. At the time of this interview, one dish that Yam was interested in learning is the art of sushi making. We are happy to report Momo’s at the Market is now selling sushi trays for New Years!

As for the future of Momos at the Market, Yam hopes to expand to other markets shortly. The beauty of these markets is that they’re able to display various types of food and cultures. Everyone who sells gets a chance to show and share their food with multiple people who may have never tried these cuisines. Although there might seem like a competition between vendors within these markets, everyone brings something new and unique to the table. 

Yam’s stories about Momos at the market are inspiring and highlight the importance of supporting local vendors and the plentitude of Markets within the Middlesex-London community. The food industry has been hit immensely due to the pandemic. Markets are not only sources of food distribution and foodservice, but they often serve as community centers, education opportunities and, in general, a place of connection. We strongly urge you to show love and support for your local market and vendors as these places keep our community healthy. For a list of markets within the area, you can view our food directory here. 

 

Thoughts on a very different holiday season during pandemic

When the calendar moves to December, I start thinking about all my favorite holiday foods and what makes them special. Our first Holiday Season with COVID forces us to really examine the best way to continue important food traditions and customs and add in some new twists. Taking a closer look at alternative options for sharing food this year, that nevertheless allow us to celebrate our food traditions, and keep us connected, might just allow us to continue the Holiday Spirit.

The big dinners with loads of friends and relatives snuggled into the host’s home for hours of talking, laughing, and of course eating, is not ok, and personally I’m very sad about that. Buffet style food sharing has been identified as a higher risk activity. Hosting or participating in in-person get togethers needs to be avoided. Alternatives, however, can be put in place so we can still take pleasure in our festivities.  Here are some suggestions to get you thinking of how to connect and find ways to celebrate the season.

Sharing food is really important to us.  The smells and taste of something special you only eat once a year with your family makes you feel grounded and provides a deep sense of belonging.  This year, try email, text or Facebook messaging an electronic copy of a special recipe as a way to share with each other.  You could also take a picture of an old recipe and share the photo.  This lets you make something you know you like to eat while promoting a feeling of togetherness, which we are all craving for this holiday season. It is a sad thing to lose a family meal but being able to recreate a tasty memory with an electronic copy of a recipe, is a convenient way to keep a tradition alive or share in someone else’s tradition.

Baking together over a Zoom call or FaceTime could be a way to connect with loved ones near and far. I have family in Northern Ontario and on the West Coast and I plan to do this with them this holiday season. Even at the best of times we rarely spend the holidays together, but with COVID we have no choice but to hold a virtual ‘get together’. The ‘preparation’ for this is important.  Try to create a checklist to decide 1) what video platform to use 2) how to set it up on your device 3) what food to make 4) what ingredients to purchase 5) what equipment is required,  and of course 6) what day/time to start. Perhaps setting a time limit (goal) will be helpful. For the kids in the family, or those with shorter attention spans, a more specific video call for something like cookie decorating would be fun.

Enjoying a meal together while being apart, by cooking the same dinner menu or ordering from the same restaurant or caterer, is bonding. The experience can be shared through any number of electronic platforms or even simply through a speaker phone call. The dinner conversation, the grace, the cheers, the airing of grievances, the comradery can all be enjoyed as usual, but in a slightly modified way.  If you have a large group, > 30 people, our community partner Growing Chefs! have a Holiday meal available to order for pickup, and the use of local ingredients to make this delicious sounding meal is definitely worth a look, https://growingchefsontario.ca/blog/Holiday2020.

Consider food gifts from your favorite bakery or specialty food shop. Try putting together a food hamper or gift box with a personal theme, to create a sincere and thoughtful gift.  There is a multitude of food subscription boxes to order online with offerings like, tea, hot sauce, cheese and snacks. My personal preference is the gift of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription, a gift that keeps on giving and a great introduction to the concept. Not to mention, it’s a conversation starter to bring awareness to our local foods.  Of course, who would not love an e-gift of a take away meal from a local restaurant.

My plans for this holiday season are simple, I will be with the people I live with (husband and kids) and have some meals with my mother.  I will not be hosting an event or sharing food, but I will be virtually present and as usual cooking and eating, just a little bit too much.  I plan to make a video of myself baking a mincemeat pie, which I will send to my father in Alberta.  I will be feeding the birds and squirrels outside my kitchen window, because I like to watch them eat.  I will have a fruit and vegetable advent where we will eat something different every day in December. Lastly, I will go through all my food cupboards and check expiration dates and use things up in my Christmas menus.

However, we choose to recognize our first COVID Holiday Season, remember to shop and support local as much as possible. Get outside as you are able, to be active and enjoy the scenes.  Most of all enjoy preparing and eating the traditional holiday foods you know and love. Reach out to loved ones by phone, text, or video call to let them know you care.  We may discover that the Holiday Spirit lives in places we did not expect.

— Susan Smith

Thinking Differently About Food

For decades activists for a local fresh food revolution have pressed decision makers, , businesses, marketers and consumers to focus more on the need to look closer to home for food supply chains.  It’s been a tough slog, full of ups and downs, as they have always been in competition with a global supply chain that offered variety, availability and consistency, at the same time as it prompted environmental damage, demeaning wages and monopolized service.

The arrival of the Coronavirus has changed all that, as people begin looking closer to home for their food as a way of fending off the threat of the pandemic. It’s no accident that demand for locally grown food has skyrocketed, nor that the supply of growing amenities like greenhouses are backlogged. It turns out that all those ideas furthered by the “grow and purchase local” movement had serious merit after all and communities are in the process of catching up.

In a time when individuals and families face emerging insecurity about the things that they touch and the food they eat, there is a growing concern about digesting food from thousands of miles away from a grouping of just a few food conglomerates that we don’t really know or see. It’s a valid concern, and despite the reality that the global food supply chain has proved remarkably durable despite the pandemic, customers increasingly look for food that is more natural, fresh and local.

It turns out that we can visualize that transformation by looking at our own communities. In London, Ontario, as an example, local grocery stores are cooperating with City Hall in diverting tens of thousands of pounds of fresh produce each month from the landfills and getting them, still fresh, to the local food bank for distribution to needy families. It’s an environmental measure that has real social consequence.

Farmers and growers in the region are taking part in a federal COVID initiative called the Surplus Food Rescue Program, in part to ensure that more locally grown foodstuffs get into the communities that require them in a time of emergency.

Such measures are urgently required, but there are more long-lasting activities getting new opportunities and exposure that are destined to continue long after the pandemic has receded into the history books. Things like urban gardens, food trees, even a large greenhouse being constructed at the back of the food bank, are signs of things that will endure past COVID.

The transformation of the farming industry in recent decades has led to the closing of thousands of farms in the global race for the bottom line. That has left some growers and producers well-positioned to take advantage of such monopolies but the majority of farmers have openly expressed their desire to get back to the practice of supplying the communities around them and being part of healthy living as opposed to just cheap goods. And they do have an advantage on their side at present, as this pandemic has proved the point that local has better stability, knowledge and nutrition advantages over the current global supply and can easily endure in all conditions and not just pandemics.

In almost every sector of Canadian communities there is continually voiced the theme of “building back better.”  Nowhere is this more valid than in the food industry. In every facet of food supply – grain, produce, fisheries, agriculture, to name a few – there are new incentives to get more local food into stores, markets and homes. At a time when global consumption is under scrutiny, the prospect of healthy farms and healthy food is just the ticket millions of Canadians are looking for.

But within all this positive movement lies an abiding threat. While it’s all beneficial, municipalities and communities aren’t effectively resourcing the infrastructure necessary for the long-term health of the local food supply chain. For the sake of future food security, investments must be made in enhancing local food markets, more efficient water management, needed environmental adaptation, clearer education for the benefits of locally grown foodstuffs, the effective redirection of local food from the global chain to the community where it is grown, and the overall design to turn our communities into food-secure areas. No COVID-19 recovery plan designed by any community can be truly effective without such measures.

The great threat is if we just lazily recede back into the spending patterns and growing practices of life before the pandemic. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now or in the future. Communities are moving in the local food direction because it makes sense and not just because it secures us in a time of pandemic. We need to build food and ecosystem resiliency and this pandemic has perhaps given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finally get to what we should have been doing all along.

The next few blogs will look further into this challenge each day, but for now we should all be looking for food systems change and not just for an emergency plan to get us through some difficult days.

Glen Pearson

Co-Executive Director

London Food Bank