The recipe for good health starts with food

Sustainable practices mean healthy food, better environment

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UC Davis Health has a great recipe for good health. It begins with good food.

The Food and Nutrition Services team for UC Davis Health has made it their mission to source ingredients from Northern California farms and ranches. Locally grown crops can be fresher and more nutritious. They also can be better for the environment and for the local economy.

“Sustainability is a hallmark of UC Davis,” said Santana Diaz, executive chef for the Sacramento-based health system. “The food we serve is not only healthy for our patients, employees and visitors. It’s also good for the farmers and ranchers we work with. The quantities of foods we purchase means significant and reliable contracts for agricultural businesses.”

By purchasing much of its food from regional sources that can almost be seen from the roof of UC Davis Medical Center, the food and nutrition team are helping reduce the health system’s carbon footprint. They’re reducing transportation costs and fuel consumption, while also serving as an economic catalyst. It’s one of the reasons why UC Davis Health earned a Practice Green Health Excellence Award last year for its sustainability practices. 

“It doesn’t make sense, for example, to truck in tomatoes from a thousand miles away when we have incredibly productive and delicious crops within 50 miles,” noted Sky Baucom-Slavin, manager of the department’s patient services and a registered dietitian. “We’re focusing on seasons and crops because every chef and home cook knows that foods are tastier when they’re fresh and in season.”

Chef Diaz, like many top chefs, enjoys getting out to visit the farms and ranches he buys from and meeting with the health system’s food partners. Working with local farmers enables him to forecast crop availabilities and plan menus around harvests and deliveries. The resulting meals are a healthy delight for those who visit, work or are hospitalized at the medical center.

Diaz enjoys surveying the fertile soils of the Sacramento Valley on his farm visits, and his personalized touch also helps provide ranchers and farmers with more certainty about the food quantities UC Davis Health needs throughout the year. It enables everyone to confidently plan ahead.

“Everyone has a connection to food,” Diaz added. “I find that linkage so much more real and vital when I’m literally on the ground, sampling the crops and walking with farmers through their fields.”

This ‘farm to fork’ spirit that the Sacramento region has become so well known for will soon expand beyond the medical center’s highly regarded café foods. Instead of the traditional fixed menu, limited-choice meals for hospitalized patients, the Food and Nutrition Services team plans to launch “room service” for patients within a year. The goal is to enhance the patient care experience by providing a menu of healthy and delicious meal choices.

“Room service means we will be serving roughly 450 meals to patients at each breakfast, lunch and dinner, and all with a restaurant level of quality,” Baucom-Slavin said. “Besides offering healthy, locally sourced foods that patients can choose from, our other goal is to reduce the waste typically generated in fixed menu food services. Sustainability and great food equal a win-win for everyone.”