Linda Swanston's blog


Greening health care through the local economy

Even though we’ve been rather quiet, Food Forward has been working fervently on the Health Sector Food File. We got a few things planned and we’ll be launching them soon so stay tuned.

In the meantime we’re thrilled to promote one of our partners’ upcoming events. You may remember in an earlier blog I wrote about the amazing work of the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care (CCGHC). Last year they brought together all kinds of actors in the food chain to talk about how to innovate and improve patient and staff meals.  It was such an accomplishment to get all the major food service corporations around the table with the aim of improving patient experience! 

This year the CCGHC is working on involving more local and small-scale producers in hospital and health-sector procurement.  Next week they are hosting a workshop on “demystifying institutional procurement to re-build the system” in Burlington.  Food Forward will be there and we’re hoping that some of our members who are producers or processors may be interested in attending as well. 

Right now the event is looking for small producers and processors – local bakers, artisanal cheese makers, small-scale canning businesses - rather than interested observers.  But not to worry if you’re an enthusiastic public supporter, one of Food Forward’s current schemes is to hold a public event later this year to really showcase and celebrate all the changes underway in Toronto’s hospital kitchens.

There’s more information below and if you’re interested in registering just get in touch with Hayley Lapalme at

An article in today’s Globe and Mail profiles a project that is successfully breaking down barriers for small processors to service hospitals.  Check out how Real Food For Real Kids is collaborating with Scarborough General Hospital to improve patient experience.

And as always if you want to get involved with Food Forward’s work in the Health Care Sector send us a note at  We’d love to bring you up to speed!

Building a Local Food Culture: Demystifying Institutional Procurement to Re-Build the System

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM (ET)

Burlington, Ontario at the Royal Botanical Gardens

This workshop will bring members of the health care food value chain together to discuss how small and medium sized local food producers can access the institutional market.  Topics that will be covered include De-Mystifying Institutional Procurement: a discussion of RFPs and the food needs of health care as well as Closing the Supply-Demand Gap: how different members of the value chain have helped rebuild the middle

Cost: Free to Ontario farmers, producers, and processors

Local lunch provided

Agenda and Registration: please contact Hayley Lapalme at


Hospital food: local innovations and bigger change

It amazes and inspires me that at 12:30am Debbie Field of FoodShare is deputing to Mayor Ford about the links between student nutrition and reduced violence, better academic achievement and community resilience. She is articulately drawing the links between food and community and individual well-being that also so desperately need to be highlighted in the health care sector. At 12:30 in the morning. That’s the kind of passion and commitment that can really make change in Toronto and hopefully be harnessed to improve health care sector food amongst other things.

As I mentioned in my last post, healthy food is thankfully receiving ever more attention in Toronto area hospitals. The front page article in the Globe and Mail in late June, A cure for the common hospital meal, captured the spirit of excited conversations that are happening between local food entrepreneurs, NGOs and hospital administrators about ways to make health sector food better. The commitment of the Broader Public Sector Investment Fund (BPSF) to support these kinds of collaborations is providing a vital boost of resources.

Look what's possible for hospital food . . . this from France

Celebrated Toronto chef Joshna Maharaj, was recently hired by Scarborough Hospital with funding from the BPSF to revitalize the in-patient food services menu. She is quickly becoming a local foodie hero of sorts as she attempts to prove that patients can eat fresher, healthier, more sustainable foods that are cooked from scratch at the same cost as mass-produced, centrally sourced frozen meals that are defrosted in hospitals “kitchen-less” food service operations.

Food Forward took a field trip to see first-hand how from-scratch cooking can be made possible in “kitchen-less” operations. Leslie Carson, profiled as a 2011 Local Food Champion, took Elena Hall and myself on a fascinating tour of St. Joseph’s Care Facility in Guelph. We happened to visit on the same day as St. Joseph’s annual general meeting so we got to sample some of the delicious special event in-house catering, and meet the food services staff who’ve gone from unpacking frozen lasagne to crafting seasonal menus under Leslie’s leadership.

Seeing the kind of innovation and success that can happen, the first questions that come to mind are, what made is possible? And how can it be replicated in ways that are community and site specific in other institutions?

Food Forward thinks critical components include political leadership and vision, combined with grassroots community support for change.

Joshna suggest in her blog that, “We can make food in health care (and in the rest of our lives, for that matter) an election issue in October and we can push our politicians at every level to consider and address food issues.”

And that’s exactly what Food Forward is doing. Food Forward worked with many community partners to mobilize support for Toronto’s Local Food Procurement Policy (appended to this 2011 update staff report) during recent debates. We petitioned councillors to support local food, and encouraged concerned residents to participate. The resulting municipal win when council overwhelmingly supported Toronto’s Local Food Procurement Policy means that Toronto’s 10 long-term care facilities will seek “to increase the percentage of food that is grown locally when all factors, including costs, quality and availability are equal.”

Given the current climate of cuts in the City of Toronto this support for municipal local food procurement needs to be celebrated and built upon. The opportunity allowed for a rare discussion of local food and institutions and even farmers market's to be discussed in a positive light at Council. But future policy needs to be stronger so that local and sustainable food in a stronger way in our institutions.

At the provincial level Food Forward is collaborating with Sustain Ontario to include institutional and health sector food services in this Fall’s Vote ON Food and Farming Campaign. Healthcare food service, like related food policies, is a multi-level issue that requires municipal, provincial and federal political attention and policy innovations.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, at the grassroots level we are currently looking to connect with anyone who works in the healthcare sector or has had a recent experience of health services as a patient or family member to build our community campaign. Research is our number one need at the moment so if you’re interested please get in touch:

And lastly, just for fun, check out what hospital food trays look like around the world and stay tuned to the Food Forward Blog for further hospital food diversions and campaign developments!