Ontario Council of Hospital Unions says many hospitals lag behind with quality food
Health Sciences North should serve as an example to other Ontario hospitals with its recent efforts to purchase more local food, said Louis Rodrigues, regional vice-president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.
“As far as Sudbury goes, I think they're doing a great job,” said Rodrigues, who was in Sudbury Monday for his union's campaign to improve the quality of hospital food in the province.
Rodrigues, a former chef at Kingston General Hospital, said that hospital started to order more frozen processed foods three years ago.
A lot of hospitals in Ontario, he said, have taken the route of cheap processed meals in recent years.
Health Sciences North does have two Tim Hortons restaurants, but the hospital has also partnered with the Greenbelt Fund's Local Food Challenge to more than double the amount of food it purchases from Ontario growers and producers for patient meals.
The Greenbelt Fund is a non-profit organization that works to enhance the sustainability of agriculture in Ontario.
Around 11 per cent of the hospital's in-patient food comes from Ontario, and with the new program the goal will be to increase that proportion by 15 per cent.
Health Sciences North spends about $100,000 each month to purchase food for around 400 patients. The hospital's kitchen, for the in-patient food program, has around 50 employees, and is not too different from an operation at a large hotel.
The hospital's retail food service sources around 30 to 40 per cent of its food from Ontario.
The hospital cafeteria spends around $10,000 to $12,000 on food per week, and handles 800 to 1,200 transactions per day.
Alex Jackson, co-ordinator of the Campaign for Better Hospital Food in England, joined Rodrigues on his tour of Ontario communities.
Jackson said he worries Ontario hospitals could follow the same path as those in his home country, where the quality of the food has declined steadily.
“Hospital food in England is a cause of national disgrace,” Jackson said.
“Hospitals often use cost as a reason for serving cheap and inedible meals.”
But Jackson said making healthy meals with local ingredients can be less expensive than purchasing pre-packaged meals.
He added that while Northern Ontario does not have a year-round growing season, hospitals can make efforts to purchase fair trade and sustainable food from other jurisdictions when local produce isn't available.
“Just because the growing season doesn't last year-round, doesn't mean we therefore have to revert to eating processed meals,” he said.