Exciting Project!

It’s been just over a month now that I’ve been on the job at The Scarborough Hospital, working on this incredible project supported by a grant from the Greenbelt Fund.  

It was way back in November that I got an email from Anne Marie Males, the VP of Patient Experience at the hospital, asking for some advice and guidance to help a hospital make the transition from industrial food to more locally sourced, wholesome food for their inpatient menu.  I almost couldn’t believe what I was reading, and jumped on this immediately.  What was scheduled as a two-hour meeting ended up as a five-hour excited brainstorm about all of the dreamy possibilities, and I drove home giddy at the thought that this could be my project!  To have the chance to tackle the challenge of improving hospital food is in itself a brilliant opportunity, but to be able to do it the way I think it should be done is just cherries on top.

In the past month, I’ve learned so much about how institutional feeding programs (yeah, that’s what they’re called!) work.  I’ve learned that the mere fact that the Scarborough Hospital still has its kitchen is itself a major triumph, as most other hospitals have surrendered their kitchens in favour of a cold plate/re-therm model that simply requires the assembly of frozen foods that are reheated en masse.  This is the system that provides the often tasteless meals made with the cheapest ingredients that are served in most hospitals.  This is also the brainchild of cost-cutting “innovators” who are perpetually trying to find ways to trim down budgets and increase efficiencies.  What I fear they haven’t adequately considered is the dramatic decline in the quality and nutritional integrity of the food their increasingly efficient systems produce.  Twenty-five years ago, the Scarborough Hospital had a busy and thriving team of cooks, who produced everything onsite, including fresh rolls for dinner! Since then, the team of 17 cooks has been downsized to 1 (no kidding), and processed, just-add-water foods are enabling this reduction in labour.  Basically, we have chosen to serve the budget instead of serving the patients.

In addition to our excitement, creativity and imagination, my greatest resource in this effort is the amazing team of people I have to work with.  Along with Anne Marie Males, there is Susan Bull, the Kitchen Manager, who is an absolute dream to work with. She’s done a tremendous job of supporting and nurturing her kitchen crew. In the kitchen, we have a team of people who are adaptive, dedicated and hard working.  I’ll be profiling some of these kitchen peeps over the coming months, starting with Debbie Lennox, a super-organized workhorse of a cook who does the best things she can with what’s available to her.  Debbie is a huge supporter of this project, and I’m lucky to have her on the team making this transition.

There is still so much to say about this amazing project, but I’ll save that for future posts! In the meantime, please share your comments with us. There has been considerable interest in this project, and we want to hear your thoughts.

To learn more about the exciting work going on at The Scarborough Hospital please visithttp://transformingtsh.com/

If you would like to receive The Scarborough Hospital’s special monthly update on their innovative patient food improvement project, ReFRESHing our Menu, please email Julie Dowdie at jdowdie (at) tsh.to. 

- Joshna Maharaj