Kaiser Permanente Hosts ‘Food For Health Forum’ Featuring Sustainable Food Experts and Innovators
October 13, 2010
Preston Maring, MD, and Kaiser Permanente will host a “Food for Health Forum” in San Francisco on Oct. 16, bringing together physicians, health care leaders and sustainable food experts from around the country to galvanize a healthy food movement within health care. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Mollie Katzen, author of The Moosewood Cookbook, are among the speakers at the invitation-only event.
Also featured will be Jamie Harvie, executive director of the Institute for a Sustainable Future in Duluth, Minn. Five years ago, many hospitals offered a menu of largely unhealthy food. The words “organic,” “sustainable” and “free range” were rarely uttered in a health care setting. All that is changing, according to Harvie, who directs Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care Initiative, a global campaign of health care, medical, nursing and environmental leaders working to promote sustainable food in health care.
Harvie spoke to Kaiser Permanente about his initiative:
Why should health care be concerned with sustainable food and improving food systems?
Sustainable food is healthy food. It promotes the health of soil, workers, individuals, economies, communities and ecological systems. Hospitals have a moral obligation to make changes to the food system that can improve health. If hospitals can’t do it, who will? Secondly, hospitals have significant purchasing power so they can be anchors for the socio-economic development of communities around the country. This can help stimulate the development of local food systems and improve the way we produce and distribute food.
When did you start focusing on this topic?
It was in 2005. Health Care Without Harm started to focus on this work and we brought health care and food system leaders together. One of the key leaders at the time was Kaiser Permanente. The national kickoff for this work was a conference called FoodMed, which took place in Oakland and was co-hosted by Kaiser Permanente. That was the first national conference on local, nutritious and sustainable food in health care.
Videos and Slideshow
- Healthy Snacking for Families: Advice from Kaiser Permanente Dietitian Nora Norback
Nora talks about how families can choose and prepare healthy after-school snacks that will satisfy young appetites, provide the right nutrition, and not spoil a good dinner.
- Kaiser Permanente and Sustainable Agriculture Slideshow
Kaiser Permanente’s relationships with small farms are growing as the organization works to fill thousands of patient meals with fresh, locally grown produce.
- Kaiser Permanente Physician Builds ‘Square-Foot Gardens’
Keith Fabisiak, MD, demonstrates how one can easily built a “square foot garden” in a 4-foot by 8-foot plot with just a few boards, soil and plants, and create a garden that can provide fresh produce and herbs for a family.
Can you describe the progress you’ve seen since then?
The first three or four years were really about helping to educate the health care community around the food system and health. Until then, there had been a focus on obesity, but primarily from an individual, nutrition focus. The new focus was around building a community of health care, food service and medical leaders that could speak about the food system and its relation to negative health impacts. The idea was to show that obesity, diabetes and other chronic conditions were all symptoms of a failed food system.
What’s happening now?
We’re in a new phase right now, which focuses on purchasing and policy engagement. For example, we created our Health Care Without Harm “food pledge.” We developed that as a means to signal to the market place that there is a serious demand by the health care community. We now have over 300 hospitals that have signed it (Kaiser Permanente among them).
Now we’re starting to see that hospitals are demanding transparency in the food they buy. Five years ago, no hospitals would have asked: how do you produce your poultry? Now, we have a number of major health systems that are engaging in agriculture policy, changing contract language, and tracking and benchmarking their progress with respect to local and sustainably produced foods.
What about the future? Where are you seeing the most promise in terms of getting healthier food into the health care setting?
I’m confident that the health care community will become engaged in agriculture policy. For example, the Farm Bill is coming up in 2012. A large component of the Farm Bill deals with agricultural subsidies. It also directs agriculture research. When you look at what is subsidized right now, it’s completely at odds with dietary recommendations. As a nation, we don’t help and promote the production of foods, such as fruits and vegetables, that we know are important for health.
There is a good reason that many nutritious foods are often more expensive. A variety of limited research demonstrates that sustainable production practices are not only more productive than our current industrial model but also provides benefits in terms of cleaner air, water, climate mitigation and socio-economic health. This is the type of agriculture research we need to invest in so that we can be even smarter in terms of healthy jobs, healthy people and a healthy planet. We’re now seeing hospitals around the country committing a significant portion of their food budget to local foods and sustainably produced foods. I hope, and I believe, that this positive trend will continue to grow.
- Kaiser Institute for Health Policy
- Green Guide for Health Care Food Credits (pdf)
- Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care Initiative
- Dr. Maring’s Farmers’ Market and Recipe Update
- EatingWell in Season: The Farmers’ Market Cookbook, (Countryman Press, 2009)
- Kaiser Permanente’s Dr. Preston Maring Featured in New York Times Profile, 9/10
- Kaiser Permanente Is Represented at the Inaugural Sowing Seeds Here and Now!: A Chesapeake Urban Farming Summit, 6/10
- Denver Botanic Gardens and Kaiser Permanente Plant Seeds for Healthy Eating, 5/10
- Sustainable Food: A Conversation with Jamie Harvie — Executive Director, Institute for a Sustainable Future, (pdf) The Permanente Journal, Spring 2010
- Kaiser Permanente Bolsters Access to Healthy, Nutritious Food in Hard Times, 12/09
- Where’s the Tomato? Mapping Your Fresh, Locally Grown Produce With Kaiser Permanente, 8/09
- Kaiser Permanente to Provide Calorie, Nutrition Information on Cafeteria Menus, 7/09
- Kaiser Permanente Physician Celebrated for Contributions to Locally Grown Food Movement, 4/09