The UVM Medical Center is committed to having the most sustainable health care food service in the country. This is an ambitious goal, but as a health care provider, we have a responsibility to do so. The reason for this is simple; better nutrition and a healthier environment results in healthier communities. For those of us working in health care, it is simply the right thing to do. We’ve been working hard to accomplish this goal, and perhaps the most obvious sign of this was last year’s opening of the Harvest Café – a sustainably built, energy efficient cafeteria that incorporates fresh, organic and local fare.
Many of our efforts have gone on behind the scenes, however. In 2006, we were one of the first hospitals in the country to sign the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge. This pledge was created by Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition of health care systems implementing environmental and health-conscious alternatives to health care practices that can damage the environment and contribute to disease. This pledge has empowered us to take the necessary steps to make the UVM Medical Center a sustainable food service that promotes nutrition for our patients and staff, grows our local food economy, and supports environmental health.
The journey towards sustainable food has been a long one, with many steps along the way. It began with simple steps, like removing our fryers, offering all-day fruit bars, and rotating fresh, seasonal fruit on our patient room service menu. From there we moved on to buying rBST-free milk, and fair-trade coffee. We now offer locally-raised ground beef, and chicken and turkey that are raised without non-therapeutic antibiotics.
We also work closely with local farmers to increase our supply of fresh, local foods for our patients and staff. We host an on-site farmer’s market, support a winter and summer farm share delivered to the hospital, and harvest from our own gardens on-site.
The pledge also urges us to minimize and reuse food waste when possible. We are using compostable plates, cups, cutlery and napkins. We recycle whenever possible, re-use our catering platters, and sell reusable bottles, mugs and cups. And, we are creating less food waste through our cook-to-order room service program.
In future blog posts, I’ll talk in more detail about some of the specific steps we’ve taken to be a more sustainable food service, and what lies ahead for us as we continue to develop our program. We’re very excited about the work we’re doing in support of the pledge and in support of a healthier, more sustainable food community in our region.