Hospitals aren’t known for their delicious meals. In fact, hospital food is typically so bad, it can make an already unpleasant stay in a hospital bed feel a whole lot worse. Family members sneak in better eats to starving patients, and many fast food restaurants have appeared in or near hospitals in recent years—not just to feed the hungry hospital staff, but also hungry patients, many of who found their way into a hospital bed by way of too much fast food in the first place. But that may all be changing soon, with hospital farms becoming the new norm.
Earlier this year, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine released a report that looked at 200 U.S. hospitals, finding fast food restaurants located in at least 45 of the hospitals. Not only is that startling enough, but the report notes that "hospitals that have contracts with fast-food restaurants encourage patients, employees, and visitors to eat the very foods[ . . . ]that hospitalize millions of Americans every year with complications from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer."
According to Eater, one medical center in Greenville, South Carolina has a contract with an on-site Chick-Fil-A that puts the burden of sales onto the hospital directly. It states that the hospital will "make every reasonable effort to increase the sales and business" for the chain.
Luckily, things are changing. As Civil Eats reports, some hospitals are taking the opposite approach to on-site fast food restaurants—they’re supporting local farmers, or planting their own hospital farms and feeding patients fresh fruits and vegetables.
The University of Wisconsin Hospital has been developing relationships with small, local growers to provide patients with healthier food options. And hospitals including Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor Hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and Watertown Regional Medical Center in Wisconsin are growing their own food, as is St. Luke’s Hospital in Pennsylvania.
“This summer, St. Luke’s Hospital started sending all new moms home from the hospital with a basket of fresh produce, recipes, and literature about the importance of a healthy diet,” reports Civil Eats.
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That’s a far cry from situations like one in Houston, where the McDonald’s restaurant located inside Ben Taub General Hospital “can terminate its lease if yearly gross sales of Big Macs and other junk foods do not reach $1 million,” the PCRM report states.
“A paradigm shift has to occur,” Mark “Coach” Smallwood, executive director at the Rodale Institute told Civil Eats. “Outsourcing is easier; over time, we believe that hospital-based farms can be as easy as outsourcing.” And a growing number of hospitals, as well as patients, agree that a large part of the healing process—whether from just giving birth or being treated for a disease like cancer—is found in the quality of the food we eat.
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