By Santana Diaz
Director of Culinary Operations and Innovation / Executive Chef
Food and Nutrition Services
Co-Chair, UC Sustainability Food Service Working Group
UC Davis Health
Our UC Davis Health Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) program continues to pioneer a true climate-friendly, source-transparent food service to our patients, visitors, and staff. At an average 2.5 million meals provided annually, our sustainable foodservice platform has continued work towards a food as medicine approach to health with long-term affective outcomes. We are strategically aiming to continue to build a ‘farm-to-hospital’ model in efforts to become a part of a larger Farm to Hospital Pilot Bill in 2022. We see this as an opportunity to not only align our clean food service goal, but also one that could truly benefit our local community.
We are fortunate enough to live in the “farm to fork” capital of California which provides much of the food bounty of our country. Local food benefits our community. By purchasing locally grown foods you help maintain farmland and green and/or open space in within our local environment. These foods in turn promote a source transparent food supply while supporting our local economy. The FNS vision aims to Inspire health and healing in our community through sustainable and nourishing food, and we are doing just that. Our education throughout our health care system and community is promoted through various Facebook LIVE events, community facing events such as the annual Tower Bridge Dinner, menu engineering throughout the seasons, PBS specials, and continued advocacy efforts with our state and federal government leaders.
We are currently working with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) on the Specialty Crop Grant project, which promotes California produce and will bridge the expertise of campus-wide leaders in health care, nutrition, research and sustainable food systems to increase the percentage of produce procured for the hospital from California growers. This effort will also support our local farmer communities. FNS has built a relationship with the Center for Precision Medicine and Data Sciences (CPMDS) where they are committed to creating effective multidisciplinary teams. In this case, we are bringing together health care research, nutrition, culinary professionals and those providing technical assistance to growers. We have established baseline data analysis and data collection protocols, identified key shifts in purchasing processes to prioritize source transparency with year one data analysis underway. We have also piloted training evaluation surveys at the first of four planned menu rollouts with FNS staff.
FNS also works with the USDA Creating High Value Market Opportunities for California’s Small- and Mid-Scale Meat Producers Grant which addresses California’s complex meat supply chain opportunities that reports drought, heat, and fire issues within the food system. We say complex because the meat supply chain has varying scales, and thus different types of links and many alternative pathways to market that are affected by different regulations that touch livestock and poultry producers, their distinct types of processors, and distribution networks in different ways. Our current procurement practices highlight these efforts with Superior Farms Lamb (organic), Richard’s Grass-fed Beef and Panorama Organic Beef ranchers.
The success of the Food and Nutrition Services team effort is represented in the building of relationships with other departments such as the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), a major partner in our food project. They are a statewide program within UC Agriculture and National Resources (ANR) committed to the success and continued growth of farm-to-hospital programs. Among other priority areas, UC SAREP builds networks between researchers and practitioners, creates tools for farmers and practitioners, assesses existing programs and conducts original research.
Food as medicine applies to everyone within our community. Being that UC Davis Health has been identified as an Anchor Institution, our FNS program continues to look into how we may further support the community through not only procurement, but also with food education. Food and Nutrition Services continues to roll out new seasonal menus, offer background information to the staff that shows where much of our food comes from, and promotes local farmers and ranchers whenever possible. We understand that our food story can be an effective sounding board in offering opportunity to educate on culturally rich foods when celebrating special events or holidays when our operation can, elevating diversity through those menus with educational tables during those celebratory meals, answers some inequities through our UC Davis Small Businesses First initiatives, and always welcoming a range of perspectives.