The industrialized food system has done an excellent job of marketing food that is nutritionally deficient and actually harms people’s health. To protect the health of staff and of the community as a whole (and in the case of hospitals, the health of their patients!), public health professionals need to respond with a clear educational ‘marketing’ campaign to correct the record and help people understand that healthy food choices—food that is produced sustainably, without the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or additives and without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics—is critical to health.
In addition to public presentations, educational brochures and newsletter articles on healthy food choices should be part of a comprehensive effort to improve community health by improving food choices.
Make information available where food decisions are made
Food service operations provide an excellent opportunity to help people learn about healthy and sustainable food and the critical relationship of food to health. One easy way to initiate this education is to label each dish. In addition to traditional nutritional information for the dish as a whole, this should include the location from which each food/ingredient comes and should identify which dishes or ingredients are certified organic or Fair Trade. The same labels should clearly indicate which dishes are appropriate for vegetarian, vegan, Kosher, or Islamic diets.
When coupled with educational information about the effects of various foods, this simple step empowers purchasers to make better choices. The same system should, of course, also help people avoid foods that contain known allergens or asthma-triggering components such as sulfites. This type of food labeling system would help increase public awareness of the direct relationship of food to health and accommodate many diverse diets. At the same time, it is surprisingly simple and inexpensive to implement.
Encourage and support community gardening
Although it is not directly connected to food in large institutions, community gardening is an important alternative to over-processed institutional food and a source of natural low-stress exercise. For purposes of this proposal, we think backyard gardening is equally important, especially if supported by promoting shared information and experiences among members of the community.
Gardening not only helps people produce healthy food, it helps people change their relationship with food and to become part of the process that brings food to their plates, which helps them see the connections between food and health and gain a sense of productivity and accomplishment. Gardening also has many direct health benefits: it strengthens the immune system, improves overall fitness, and lowers the incidence of asthma in participants. Gardening also is often associated with increased hand strength for those who suffer from arthritis. Community gardens are an excellent way for people to get healthful outdoor exercise that tends to decrease stress and anxiety.
Here in the Lehigh Valley, there are several potential partners for community-gardening efforts, including Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative (Southside Community Gardens project), SUN*LV (Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley), and Community Action (CACLV) and its West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, to name just a few. We urge public health professionals to actively support community gardening efforts and encourage people to participate in community or backyard gardening projects.
- Read how sustainable Food Service Operations support community health. [Many of the practices described in Food Service Operations can also be applied in other settings.]
From the Healthy Food for Healthy Communities report, April 2010. This report outlines the public health implications of the food products from the dominant industrial agriculture system and food service operations in institutions such as hospitals, colleges & universities, and schools.
The report was produced by and is based on research by student interns working with the Alliance, including students from Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Moravian College, and Muhlenberg College.