August 6, 2008

Hospitals Rethinking Their Food Services As ‘Preventive Medicine’

By David Wahlberg, The Wisconsin State Journal

Aug. 6--Madison hospitals are adding eco-friendly touches to their food services, joining a growing number of hospitals treating food as "preventive medicine," a national group says.

Meriter and St. Mary's have started buying produce from local farmers, and UW Hospital plans to do so soon, moves designed to offer healthier, fresher food to patients and workers.

St. Mary's, which got rid of Styrofoam cups last year, stopped offering water in plastic bottles in June. Meriter will eliminate Styrofoam cups next week, replacing them with cups made of sugar cane, potatoes and corn.

"This is important to our employees, our patients and our visitors," said Mae Knowles, Meriter spokeswoman. "Madison consumers are very in tune with this, probably more so than in a lot of other communities."

Meriter's food vendor has occasionally used local produce for a year, Knowles said. In July, she said, the hospital started buying Wisconsin-grown vegetables for its salad bar from Organic Valley Farms, based in La Farge.

Knowles said Meriter will begin receiving more kinds of vegetables today from Badgerland Food Co-op, based in Montello.

St. Mary's got its first shipment from Badgerland on Friday. The move was sparked in part by an "urge to reduce the hospital's carbon footprint," spokesman Steve Van Dinter said in a news release.

A UW Hospital food service official will visit the co-op this month to consider a contract, said spokesman Aaron Conklin.

Gov. Jim Doyle highlighted a local food purchasing program at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire last month when he visited the hospital to announce $225,000 in grants for a new Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program. Badgerland received one of the grants.

At least 128 hospitals around the country, including the Aurora Health Care system in Wisconsin, have signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, organized by the Virginia-based nonprofit, Health Care Without Harm.

Hospitals are "treating food and its production and distribution as preventive medicine that protects the health of patients, staff and communities," the group says on its Web site.

Meriter and St. Mary's are planning to replace other kinds of Styrofoam containers, while UW Hospital has no immediate plans to do so, the hospital officials said.

Madison's Veterans Hospital purchases food through large government contracts, so it doesn't buy local produce, said spokesman Scott Krueger. The VA system is looking into eco-friendly initiatives, he said.


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