I have long wondered if it’s a coincidence that the kitchens in hospitals are often in the basement. Prioritization of food in healthcare is often pit against clinical priorities, rather than seen as complementary. Common refrains I’ve heard from healthcare include, “It’s food or the MRI,” or “If a patient is well enough to complain about the food, they’re well enough to go home.”
Across the country, twenty-five Nourish Innovators are challenging these narratives by working to demonstrate the value of food in healthcare. From Haida Gwaii to Gander, the Nourish cohort is on a two year journey of learning and experimentation, exploring questions about the opportunity for food in healthcare to improve the patient experience, organizational culture, and community wellbeing. They are made up mostly of foodservice professionals from hospitals and long-term-care homes, serving urban and rural populations in French, English, and Indigenous communities. They are collaborating as wayfinders to a future where health care organizations recognize and plan for the impact of food on the patient journey, economic vibrancy, and environmental wellbeing.
As school food enthusiasts, you witness first-hand that eating can be an empowering act. On campuses, food nourishes students hungry for new horizons. In healthcare, eating is an opportunity three times a day to provide comfort in an often lonely, bewildering experience. It is also a chance to model new behaviours, support a faster recovery, and to connect patients to culture and place – or, to do the opposite.
Poet and farmer Wendell Berry famously wrote that “eating is an agricultural act,” describing the impact of individual choice on food and farming. At the scale and scope of feeding our Canadian institutions are doing, I see it as a cultural act. Healthcare alone serves thirty-five million people and spends well over $4 billion on food annually. With its financial and reputational pull, the sector sets an example for setting the table, and sends a strong signal about what values should determine what food is grown and who can access it.
This fall, the Nourish Innovators will be announcing the suite of projects they will be working on collaboratively. They are tackling some of the systemic barriers that prevent the sector from delivering the full value of food to their patients. From barriers to serving traditional meals, for example an Anishinabek dish that is considered “double starching” for its use of both rice and potatoes, to challenges developing and sourcing foods for more delicious, sustainable menus, they will be channeling their collective wisdom to work that will reframe the way we see food in care: to a future where food is valued as an integral part of health and healing.
Hayley Lapalme is the Program Designer & Facilitator for Nourish at the McConnell Foundation.
Follow us on twitter @NourishHealth and sign up for our quarterly mailing list to get an invitation to the Fall Cohort Projects Reveal webinar.