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Using the power of food to build health for people and the planet

Pearl Leung

Pearl Leung

Digital Marketing Specialist

Food is integral to our health, yet it isn’t being fully leveraged in our healthcare systems.

Every year, Canadian healthcare institutions spend $4 billion on food. But, every year, food waste is costing them $45 million. Deserved or not, hospital meals are notorious for their awful taste, and are often left unfinished. Additionally, limited menu selections mean that some patients are unable to eat their food for religious reasons.

Thanks to a handy infographic that CSI member Nourish has put together, we can see the impacts of food in the Canadian healthcare system. Here are a few highlights:

  • Patient tray waste can be as high as 50%
  • Malnourished patients stay in hospital care 2-3 days longer
  • Diet-related disease is a major driver of healthcare spending, but 87% of medical students say they lack adequate education in nutrition and are ill-equipped to counsel patients

A national community of practice, Nourish looks at every challenge they find as an opportunity. They envision a future where the health of people and the planet are supported by sustainable food and health systems that work together for preventative and equitable health for all. They break this down into five components:

  • From “food as commodity” to “food as medicine”: Rather than a paradigm that sees food simply as a commodity to be traded, food is fully valued for its healing impacts for people, communities, place, culture, and the planet.
  • From fragmented to interconnected systems: People, communities, and sectors will be connected through finding transition pathways that find synergy across health, agriculture, environment that are currently siloed. Communities will share more resources and power with their institutions in a way that deepens the quality and seamlessness of their health and their health care.
  • From mechanical to organic: The current system has a high degree of path dependency (e.g. capital invested in current operating systems) in a paradigm of efficiency that is mechanical, but paradoxically produces a lot of undesirable outcomes, like food waste and an inability for hospitals to support local food producers. This rigid system could evolve to mimic more natural, organic forms of self-organizing that seek greater balance between people and planetary ecosystems.
  • From competing goals to shared mission: The physical separation of the actors in the current system is reinforced by capitalism, that gives rise to a scarcity-driven competitive dynamic for limited resourcing. Within alignment around a common mission – the health and well-being of people and planet – we can move with speed and intuition towards a new future. Conditions will be created for power-sharing and collaboration that draw out the wisdom of all stakeholders in a system.
  • From disenfranchisement to empowerment: Many actors in the system, from food buyers, to community activists to medical students to hospital employees, feel stuck, undervalued, overwhelmed and burnt out within their roles. They envision a transition toward a system that values everyone’s agency and location in the system, creating meaningful work and meaningful outcomes for all.

Right now, Nourish is a semi-finalist for the Rockefeller Food System Vision Prize. They’re competing with 78 other projects to obtain a spot in the Food System Vision Accelerator! We’re proud to support the work they’re doing, excited to see them come this far, and eager to see what they accomplish in the future!

Want to learn more about the good work Nourish is doing? Read their submission to the Food System Vision Prize and visit their website.

Want to work alongside inspiring innovators like Nourish? Find out what membership could look like for you.

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