Food Day + Hospital Food Service

Last week, Monday, October 24, was the “first” annual Food Day.  In case you didn’t hear, Food Day (sponsored by CSPI) is meant for everyone who eats, and the purpose is “to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.”  Institutions across the country changed their menus for the day, and special speakers and events were scheduled in most major cities.

At the hospital I am interning at, there were a few special events – a local CSA had a table in the cafeteria, with a beautiful display of produce and encouraging people to sign up. There were special menu items, featuring more whole foods/meatless options (more than normal Mondays).  This hospital already practices “mostly” Meatless Mondays, meaning that the hot entrees are all vegetarian, and all specials (pizza, grill) are vegetarian.  The “standard” items at the grill/sandwich bar/etc are still present, but there are many more vegetarian options.

But then…on Tuesday, everything went back to “normal.”  How do we make the principles of Food Day a daily change versus an annual (or weekly, if Meatless Monday is observed) event?  In other words, how does a conscientious eating pattern become normalized?  And how does one encourage people to make changes at home?

During the past few months, I have been wondering about the role of hospital food service in promoting long-term healthy eating.  I recognize that many of the patients who are in the hospital are having trouble keeping their weight stable (e.g. they have unintentionally lost 50# in the past 1-2 months due to failure to thrive/cancer/etc) and many times are malnourished. I’m all for pushing the Scandishakes (900 kcal!) and Ensure to these patients, because of the caloric density and improved outcomes for the patient if they don’t keep losing weight.  But…what about the standard meals offered?  The “regular”/standard menu has an average of 4g of sodium/day, which is much higher than the recommended 1.5-2g sodium/day.  How do you balance making sure people eat when they are very ill, and providing the healthiest meals possible?  And how does one do this in mass production?

Patients at this hospital can typically eat a very balanced diet according to the Plate Method (half plate veggies, one-fourth protein source, one-fourth whole grains) if they make the proper menu selections. When I was entering in the menus, however, many of the patients were not doing that – most were not selecting vegetables, and most opted for the cake/pie (in the hospital’s defense, the dessert slice is literally about 3 bites) instead of the fresh fruit for dessert. The MyPlate image is even printed on the paper menus!  And for the pediatrics floors — is it okay to have hamburgers/french fries/hot dogs/chips/soda/etc on the menu, if it ensures that kids (who, remember, are in the hospital because they are very ill) are eating?  Is this making the assumption that kids will not eat healthier alternatives?

What are your thoughts?  Did you do anything to celebrate Food Day?

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ADA Corporate Sponsorships

American Dietetic Association

Images from EatRight.org

Anyone attending FNCE, the annual American Dietetic Association (*Update: Apologies, now it’s the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics) conference, this weekend?

Twitter has been going crazy these past few days with posts about FNCE – expressing excitement about going to beautiful SD, shameless plugs to visit sponsor booths, and anticipation for the knowledge to be gained this weekend.

Which brings me to the topic of corporate sponsorships.  Is it okay for the ADA to receive corporate sponsorships from companies like Coca Cola, Hershey’s, National Dairy Council, and Truvia?  Is it okay for FNCE’s corporate sponsorships to include Campbell’s, ConAgra, Nature Made, and Safeway?

I was at a state ADA conference earlier this year, and the program included a lecture sponsored by the beef council and a lecture sponsored by a watchdog group advocating for a vegan diet.  Can we be certain that the information presented is completely true, and not biased because of sponsorships?  Can we be certain that all of the research is indeed getting published, or is some research possibly getting denied due to conflict of interest?  I don’t know.  But it’s concerning to someone like me, who wants to know the facts about nutrition, not a skewed perspective of how great beef is just because the beef council is writing a check.

I don’t know if you heard, but there was recently a contest — if an ADA member wrote a blog about food safety, he/she would be entered into a contest to win a free iPad from ADA and ConAgra.  One blogger noted that this type of contest is basically saying that food safety needs to be a consumer issue, and that  food corporations (the cause of many food safety problems) like ConAgra are not taking enough responsibility.  As a member of the ADA, is this something that I really want to be encouraged?  Food safety in the home is very important, but so is food regulations at the corporate level.  Is it okay for ADA to turn a blind eye to that, even if just for a raffle competition?

On the other hand, though, what would it mean for the members of ADA if there were no corporate sponsors?  Dues are climbing each year (this year, RDs paid $245!), and that rate would be even higher if there were no corporate sponsors.  Are ADA members willing to pay even more?

I personally disagree with the ADA’s decision to accept corporate sponsorships.  However, I continue to be a member because I appreciate ADA’s efforts to lobby for things like licensure for dietitians, and I have appreciated the networking opportunities available.  It’s frustrating, though, because I also don’t want to be associated with an organization that is accepting sponsorships/therefore perhaps turning a blind eye to important issues.  I feel trapped with no other alternative, really.

What are your thoughts about this?