Understanding Local Eating

Eating locally is an important idea that has gained lots of momentum in the last few years, and our ReFRESHing our Menu project to improve inpatient food here at TSH is evidence of these ideas really starting to take root outside of people’s home kitchens.  In an effort to measure the depth of our current investment in local eating, we’ve done a local food audit of our kitchen.  Essentially, what we were looking for is the source, or point of origin, for the products we purchase for the inpatient menu. 

For our purposes, we’re classifying local as being from within Ontario.  Generally, the idea is that you shouldn’t have to go further than a day’s drive to get your food.  Local eating has a number of benefits, with real impacts on our economy, our environment and our health. There is a wide variety of ways that local food is understood.  Originally, the idea of local eating also implied a more sustainable approach to food procurement, including seasonality, cost and nutrition under this umbrella.  Local eating ties us to the seasons, gives us a chance to invest in our own economies, reduces our impact on the environment and maintains the nutrition and flavor of our food. There has been a swell of interest in local eating in the last few years, and while this is very good news, I have noticed that there’s been a shift in the definition of local food as well. This shift seems to include a more singular focus on the postal code of the producer, and little to no focus on farming practices, greenhouse gas emissions and the nutritional integrity of the food.  Now, I fully support the movement to buy as much Ontario product as possible, but it’s important to see a distinction between producers who are authentically local and those who are simply geographically convenient.  A ‘buy Ontario’ attitude is a great place to start, but the way I see it, we’ve got to be constantly working towards a more truly sustainable ideal.  It is not enough for me to simply purchase food because it’s produced in Ontario, as our province is home to a number of factory farms and feedlots who use pesticides liberally and exploit their workers.

In our efforts here at The Scarborough Hospital to put more locally sourced food on patient plates, we have had to embrace the idea of making the transition to sustainable food in stages.  Consequently, we’ve truly accepted the adage that real change happens slowly, and so we’re focusing our first efforts towards getting local, sustainably produced vegetables, fruits and grains into the kitchen.  Once we have things running smoothly, we can start introducing eggs, dairy and animal proteins to the menu. Focusing on Ontario products is an important first step, but there is much more to be considered, and my dream for the inpatient menu here at TSH is that it be comprised of as much locally sourced, sustainably produced food as possible. To learn more about the exciting work going on at The Scarborough Hospital please visit http://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, Chef, Writer & Activist