Healthcare commits to nourishing people and the planet

  • Europe


A blog post by Paola Hernández Olivan, Food Projects & Policy Officer – HCWH Europe


Food is essential to life and it shapes our identity, but our entire food system is broken. Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to the climate emergency, loss nature and biodiversity, water degradation and scarcity, and environmental pollution. Meanwhile, three billion people globally do not have access to sufficiently nutritious, culturally appropriate, and sustainably produced food. The challenge we face is - how can we provide healthy diets to a global population of nine billion by 2050, within planetary boundaries?

We need commitment from everyone - policymakers, industry influencers, city planners, local business owners, donors, producers, consumers - we all have the power and the responsibility to demand healthier, sustainable, plant-based diets. 

The answer is complex, but fundamental to making the world a better place; we must now recognise that our food system requires urgent change and that it can also be a powerful tool for wider positive change.

A key message of this year’s World Food Day is that we need commitment from everyone - policymakers, industry influencers, city planners, local business owners, donors, producers, consumers - we all have the power and the responsibility to demand healthier, sustainable, plant-based diets. We need to support each other to effectively identify solutions, and build food systems for planetary protection, human wellbeing, and intergenerational equity.

The great thing about food is that we all have the potential to make a change; most of us eat at least three times a day, and the food we choose to serve to our families, employees, and our patients has an impact - the power is on our plates!

The healthcare sector is taking the lead

These past years, I have met motivated and dedicated Health Care Without Harm members who are helping people to reconnect with their food and serving solutions to the health and environmental issues of our diets and food choice. People are finally starting to see food as an important part of recovery and overall health and wellbeing - it tastes great!

This year, for World Food Day, some members have turned their attention to the problem of food waste – an issue that affects many policies but inspires individual action – sometimes tricky when it comes to food!

"Nothing left for waste" – that’s the message from Ulli Sima, Environment Councillor for the City of Vienna who has gathered 58 Viennese canteen kitchens across company restaurants, hospitals, and nursing homes – including 15 from the Vienna Hospital Association. The city organised a variety of events and actions between 14 - 20 October to address reducing food waste for climate protection and aligning the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In the end - the best amount of waste is none! By taking diverse measures in the last six months, the Vienna Hospital Association alone has achieved a 7% decrease in food waste:

  • Educate: make patients, employees and visitors aware of the topic
  • A la carte: let guests choose from menu components
  • Serving sizes: offer dishes in various portion sizes
  • Avoid overproduction: through careful planning of customers’ meal requests
  • Reuse of leftovers: for example, as intermediate dishes the next day
  • Monitoring: systematically collect and monitor food waste 

"It's about anchoring the value of food within corporate culture” - Petra Götz, Kitchen Programme Manager at the Vienna Hospital Association.

In France, our members the Hospital Centre of Niort and the University Hospital Center of Grenoble-Alpes came together on World Food Day 2019 to discuss their current projects: MECAHF, and NAGA, respectively. During this information exchange, both hospitals outlined their next steps to tackle food waste and discussed how to reinvest the financial savings into the local economy by purchasing local and organic products. 

Our relationship with food forms a crucial part of our identity and social and cultural developments throughout human history, it is therefore important to consider culturally appropriate food when we talk about sustainability. Offering food options that are both familiar and acceptable to diverse groups is a sign of respect that helps to increase user satisfaction and reduce waste. This is reflected in the recent experiences of the Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust who recently organised an event for Black History Month – featuring not only lots of great food from African traditions, but also powerful poetry readings and music to educate staff about the importance of traditional foods and cultures.

Personally, I am glad to see all these successful experiences in celebration of World Food Day - I hope these initiatives inspire others within healthcare to deliver healthy and sustainable diets to patients and staff, and enrich food culture at their facilities.

But, of course, none of this matters, until we start to truly look at the value of food and not just consider it a mere commodity or product. For that to happen, we must put the necessary policies and incentives in place; making this shift is not going to be easy, but the healthcare sector is ready to change the way we eat. Are you?

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