Reflecting on Nourish’s Food for Health Symposium

Thursday, May 30, 2019

by Soni Craik Christie and Stephanie Crocker

Patient and planet-friendly meals using local ingredients served at Food for Health

Have you heard the whisper: “What more is possible for our food system?” Our healthcare facilities are often the largest institutions in our communities — is it possible that through food, they can meet the needs of human and planetary health and well-being, and keep a stable bottom line? Can you imagine a world where our institutions take leadership on transforming food?

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s Nourish program’s Food for Health Symposium on May 15-16th 2019, at the Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto, stirred those questions in its attendees from the healthcare and food sectors with inspired and concrete examples of what is possible NOW.

The Nourish Food for Health Symposium was based on the trailblazing work of the Nourish Cohort— 26 institutional innovators from across Canada who are transforming patient food. Their work ranges from developing recipes in consultation with local Indigenous community members in order to serve traditional ingredients, to procuring sustainable and organic foods for the first time, to increasing plant-based proteins on patient menus — all to bring back a more positive connection between patient health, community health and the health of our planet.

The themes of the Symposium were designed around some of the broader, collaborative goals of the Nourish cohort teams to transform healthcare food systems through: Sustainable Menus and Procurement, Food Service Innovation, and Traditional Foodways.

The Sustainable Menus and Procurement stream showcased the exciting work of institutions across the continent who are pushing values-based procurement forward. Some of their work includes:

  • Setting a goal of 30% purchasing of BC foods in government facilities that have motivated GPOs and distributors to increase the use of local foods
  • Hospitals motivated to meet Ontario’s Local Food Act goals putting more local and “from-scratch” cooking on the menu like at Halton Healthcare
  • Putting sustainable and organic foods on the menu for the first time at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa and at Ste. Justine in Montreal
  • Forward contracting between institutional buyers and local farmers designed to reduce risk, secure volumes and stabilize costs in City of Thunder Bay long-term care homes
  • A values-based Request for Proposal (RFP) tool for institutional food buyers to communicate criteria to their distributors that is in its development phase. (More information to come!)

The Food Service Innovation stream showed how little attention food currently receives on patient satisfaction surveys. The first-hand patient stories revealed a need for more love in the food, more local and more fresh foods. Culturally diverse options and diet liberalization where patients have more choice were topics of discussion. Measuring the patient experience is a goal of the Nourish project, with the understanding that putting the patient first requires a better understanding of the patient experience with hospital meals. The campaign is now called the Good Food Project, and they are seeking hospital sites to test the patient satisfaction tools in order to collect data in a standardized way.

The Traditional Foodways workshops explored the significance, value, and logistics of serving traditional foods in healthcare. Facilities who have taken the lead in Traditional Food Programs, such as Yukon Hospitals & Sioux Lookout MenoYawin Health Centre Miichim project, under the belief that “to deny one’s food is to deny them of their culture”, (a right that is articulated in the Truth and Reconciliation findings) shared their experiences. The Traditional Foodways team’s work can be found here:

What was perhaps most powerful about the Symposium, was that these streams of inquiry were purposefully held in a space of Indigenous knowledge, leadership and respect for people and the planet. This space was held through the traditional opening, the Indigenous experiential workshops such as the Kairos Blanket Exercise, and a keynote address by Inuk activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Sheila opened the second day of the Symposium by reminding us how the Indigenous experience with colonialism parallels the trauma the earth now faces due to human impact. Sheila’s advocacy over the last 20 years, brings attention to the impact on the north of environmental degradation further south, first through persistent toxins in the environment and now showing the impact of global climate change as a human rights issue. Sheila has lived her message to all of us about taking leadership on these big challenges that humanity now faces: “What leadership means to me – never lose sight of the issues at hand that are much bigger than oneself. Model authentically, genuinely. Keep calm, clarity, focus. Always check inward – lead from strength not fear, or victimhood, so you don’t project one’s own limitations on those you are modelling for.”

Imagine the world where we all lead and act in that way.

Representatives of the GHFFA Serving Up Local project attended the Nourish Food for Health Symposium to share and inform the newly launched and extended second phase of the project: Serving Up Local Phase II: An Economic Analysis, (SULEA) into 22 long-term care homes across the Golden Horseshoe. The SULEA project will result in a tool that supports all long-term care homes in Ontario to incorporate more local foods on resident menus and understand the economic impact to the homes of purchasing local. For more information on the SULEA project please contact project leads Stephanie Crocker and Soni Craik Christie.