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HFHC November/December 2010 Newsletter

Oregon Healthy Food in Healthcare Newsletter
November/December 2010 

Happy Holidays from the Oregon Healthy Food and Health Care Project!

Healthy Food in Health Care Update
Holiday Meals: An Avenue for Sustainable Meat Purchasing
It’s that time of year again, the northwest rains have arrived, a crisp chill is in the air, and our friends, families, and places of work are eagerly planning their holiday menus. From home gatherings and staff parties to patient trays and cafeteria festivities, holiday meals are being planned across the country. Meat is often a major component to holiday meals. Over the holiday season thousands of pounds of turkey, roasts, ribs, and hams will be purchased, prepared, and served to expectant mouths that are not always aware of what it takes to produce the animal they are eating. This is a perfect time for hospitals to not only engage in sustainable food procurement but to also educate their eaters about the importance of purchasing meat that is raised in a sustainable manner.
 Many hospitals in the region are already making concerted efforts to support the health of their eaters and the environment while at the same time giving the local farm economy a boost. Oregon Health & Science University is a great example of a hospital that has worked hard to incorporate sustainable meat into their menu. In August of 2010 OHSU started purchasing Food Alliance Certified grass-fedbeef from Carman Ranch located in Wallowa, Oregon. Cattle on the ranch are raised without the use of added hormones or antibiotics. As of now OHSU is purchasing ground beef for patties, bones for soup, and a few other cuts that fit into their four week menu rotation.  

In 2008 OHSU’s Food Service Director identified beef as the next area he’d like to work on in terms of improving the food they serve. Specifically he made grass-fed beef a key priority for improving the health and sustainability of both patient and retail meals served at OHSU. With a few names of regional ranches that supplied such a product in hand, Scott Cochrane, OHSU Purchasing Agent, went to work finding a ranch that would fit their need. They finally settled on Carman Ranch – owned and operated by Cory Carman a 4th generation rancher that returned to family land after deciding her pull to the ranch was stronger than her pull to a career in Washington DC.  

Prior to taking on the job of incorporating grass-fed beef into OHSU food service, Mr. Cochrane did not know a lot about this product. He learned what he knows through the process of developing the purchasing arrangement between his facility and the ranch. After understanding more about it he feels like it is a worthy endeavor, “why wouldn’t you support a practice that protects our environmental resources.” However, even more than appreciating the environmental benefits, Mr. Cochrane was impressed with the dedication and commitment to the continuation of a family business shown by Carman Ranch. He wants to ensure their product is successful at OHSU so that this regional ranch that has put a lot on the line to operate in a way that supports their values can succeed.* 

OHSU’s purchasing commitment has had a huge impact on Carman Ranch. Prior to the agreement, the ranch was having a difficult time getting distributors to carry their product. Fulton Provision, a regional meat processor and distributor, started purchasing whole animals from Carman Ranch when the OHSU purchasing agreement made it evident there was a strong market for the product.  The willingness of Fulton Provision to purchase whole animals from Carman was also paramount to the success of the ranch-hospital relationship. Generally a distributor would only purchase cuts of meat from a ranch that have been specifically ordered by an institution or restaurant. This means that the ranch has to hold onto a lot of product. Because Carman Ranch is a small operation holding onto unsold cuts of meat creates cash-flow problems. OHSU recognized this issue in its commitment to purchasing whole animals and Fulton Provision did the same. Fulton now is holding the unsold product, with some risk, but both because they believe the production methods are the right thing to do and because they know Carman Ranch produces a high quality product that will sell, they are willing to take that risk. 

Currently all of OHSU’s ground beef patties are made with grass-fed beef, accounting for about one-third of all of the beef at OHSU. With the switch to grass-fed beef they did not experience a huge price increase. Grass-fed beef was about $1 more a pound but because they switched purchasing practices in other meat categories (they switched from conventional bacon to an uncured, nitrate-free product), their overall meat purchasing did not increase significantly. In the future, OHSU has plans to reduce serving sizes and better promote the health and sustainability of the product so that money is saved from reduced purchasing but customers do not feel slighted because they are getting a higher quality product.

Sustainable Meat at Your Facility: As with the OHSU example, you do not need to be an expert in sustainable meat to start purchasing it. You can learn more about sustainability criteria for meat here and by reading the interview with Fulton Meat Provisions below. Ideas to help get you started with sustainable meat purchasing include:  

  • Decide which types of meat you would like to purchase sustainably and what sustainability criteria are most important to you. 
  • Identify the producer and/or distributor you’d like to work with (FoodHub is a good place to start).
  • Talk with appropriate staff to make sure those that need to be informed about the new product are.
  • Find out if cooking methods need to be altered based on the type of meat you purchase (e.g., grass-fed has less fat so cooking heat and times may change)
  • Create posters, table tents, and other marketing materials that will highlight the product to patients, staff, and visitors.

Keep in Mind: After setting up the purchasing arrangement with Carman Ranch, Scott Cochrane has learned a few things along the way in terms of how to make the process and transition to sustainable meat purchasing as smooth as possible.

  • Ensure that Food Service Director, Chef, and Purchasing Agent are all talking so they can understand who is doing what and how they are going to do it.
  • When you purchase a seasonal product from a regional producer know that there is the potential for orders to be different than expected:
    • Weather can affect quality and quantity of grass in turn affecting quality and quantity of beef. This may reduce product availability.
    • Producers can decide not to sell as many cattle as they had thought depending on quality concerns from things such as animals experiencing reduced growth, sickness, etc.
  • Market your product appropriately. Make sure that you understand all of the various benefits your product holds form environmental to nutrition to community building. And highlight those benefits in as many places as possible - menu labeling, in-house TV screens, table tents, posters, etc.,
  •  Know you are working with a high quality product and prepare with appropriate cooking techniques.
 Balance Your Meals:   Holidays are also a great time of year to introduce new recipes to hospital cafeterias and patient menus. This fall, hospitals from Oregon and SW Washington created Oregon Balanced Menus: A Collection of Regional Hospital Recipes, a book of reduced-meat or meat-free recipes of institutional scale. Reducing the amount of meat hospitals purchase has multiple benefits from mitigating impact on climate change, to improving health of patient, staff and visitors, to saving money.  Money saved can be used to purchase more sustainably raised meat. These recipes can be used to serve up healthy, sustainable holiday meals.**

Please contact Gretchen Miller if you would like more information on sustainable meat production and purchasing, incorporating the product into your facility, or have general questions about sustainable procurement at your facility.   

Oregon Healthy Food in Health Care Workgroup - Meetings Underway!
The Oregon Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) Workgroup held its first meeting October 15that Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland. The meeting was well attended with twelve individuals present, representing six different facilities. A number of different topics were addressed including workgroup purpose and structure as well as potential project ideas. Specifically, a media campaign in which members work to develop press releases every few months on cross-hospital sustainability efforts was proposed. Additionally a sustainable portion control and menu labeling project was discussed. Further development of both of these projects will take place at future workgroup meetings.

The Oregon HFHC Workgroup meets on the third Friday of every month from 10:00AM-11:30AM. Each month the meeting agenda will switch from project implementation topics to sustainable food policy and plan development. The next workgroup meeting will be December 17that Legacy Good Samaritan. If you would like to become involved with the workgroup please contact Gretchen Miller, (503) 274.2720 X 24.

*Carman Ranch photo by Jason Langer
**Balanced Menu photo by SW Washington Medical Center

Community Partner Highlight
Ask the Expert – Tom Semke of Fulton Provision Weighs in on Sustainable Meat
Fulton Provision Company is a Food Alliance Certified meat processing and distribution business located in Portland, Oregon. In addition to the third-party certification they hold for their facility they also carry a number of Food Alliance Certified product lines. They work with small and large producers and everything in between. Tom Semke, Fulton’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, has been in the food business for over 40 years – 32 years as a chef in the Portland area and has been at Fulton for the past 11 years. During his tenure at Fulton, the business earned its Food Alliance Certification and many ranchers in the community credit Tom and Fulton for helping get their regional, sustainable products to market and facilities credit Fulton for increased access to those products. Tom knows meat and he knows the importance of sustainable production and distribution. Recently he spoke with the Oregon Healthy Food in Health Care team to pass some of that knowledge on to hospitals. 

Q: What is sustainable meat and how do you define it from a distributor's perspective?
A: THere are two ways to look at this, from the ranch side, it is how the animal is produced - no added hormones, raised without antibiotics, feed type and quality, good land management, etc. From a distributor's perspective, sustainable meat is utilizing a balanced animal from a local region. Defined in these terms, sustainability is a reduction of carbon food print from eating meat raised close to home but also carries a significant fiscal component to it. A balanced animal refers to purchasing a whole animal and selling all of its parts. This is incredibly important to the financial viability of a ranch, particularly small ones, because they can't afford to either hold product or send it into the commodity program that will fetch a much cheaper price than the market for sustainably produced meat would.

Q: What is the importance of regional ranches and why do you believe it’s important to carry products from them?
A: If we are going to keep our communities viable and vibrant, supporting regional farms and ranches is the only way we (distributors) can do that. Ranchers have asked, “How small is too small?” Every size is important. Locality is important and we need to continue to wrap our arms around that.

Q: What is the current availability of sustainable, regional meat products?
A: Based on demand we are not facing a shortage yet. The biggest problem that we are facing is programs that are producing sustainable products but that are not certified and/or documented so they can’t provide consumers with verifiable information on their practices. This makes it very difficult to get their product both into distributors and to a wider market at a price that is fair.

Q: What kind of cost difference will hospitals see if they want to switch to purchasing sustainably raised meat?
A:About $.80-$1.00 more per pound. The people that get sustainable and understand the importance of the programs that ranchers are implementing will understand and be okay with that price increase. If you don’t understand the programs, you won’t understand the price increase.

Q: Do you have advice to hospitals that want to start purchasing sustainable meat?
A:Start slow! Know that this isn’t an overnight switch. Hospitals need to be open-minded about prices they will encounter and understand there is a qualitative difference between sustainably raised meat and commodity meat. Plan ahead – know your volumes, understand your needs and grow into a program. It can take a couple of years to get to your ultimate goal but if you start slowly and ease your way in you have a better chance of being successful. Truth in menu labeling is more important than ever with the level of education eaters have these days. Make sure that product is consistently available to you and that it is fully incorporated into your food service (or into the areas you want it to be) so you don't get stuck advertising you serve a certain product only to find that the next month it isn't available for every place you advertised it to be.

Q: What is the first step hospitals should take if they’d like to purchase sustainable meat?
A: Call your distributor to see what’s available and communicate your need. Contacting at the ranch level can sometimes put hospitals, which need larger volumes of supply, at a disadvantage by creating more work for them to set up a program.

New Guides and Resources 
Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Egg Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture - An independent report has been released that focuses on widespread abuses in organic egg production, primarily by large industrial agribusinesses. The study profiles the exemplary management practices employed by many family-scale organic farmers engaged in egg production, while spotlighting abuses at so-called factory farms, some confining hundreds of thousands of chickens in industrial facilities, and representing these eggs to consumers as “organic.”

Animal farms are pumping up superbugs. The superbugs are among us and they are not leaving. Indeed, they are growing stronger.

Factory farms: Meat is cheap, but at what cost? If you adjust for inflation and income, Americans have never spent less on food than they have in recent years. And yet many feel we've also never paid such a high price.

As demand grows for locally raised meat, farmers turn to mobile slaughterhouses. When Kathryn Thomas wanted to turn her sheep into lamb chops, the federal government required her to haul them across Puget Sound on a ferry and then drive three hours to reach a suitable slaughterhouse. Not anymore. These days, the slaughterhouse -- and the feds -- come to her.

Is our demand for cheap food putting our health at risk?At least 12 major diseases, which between them cause millions of people to suffer and tens of thousands to die around the world, can be blamed on factory farming, they claim. These include swine flu, bird flu, salmonella, e-coli and mad cow disease.

Upcoming Events

14th – Friends of Family Farmers InFARMation – 6:30PM-8:30PM (Portland, Oregon – Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison)
17th - Oregon Healthy Food in Health CareWorkgroup Meeting – 10:00AM-11:30AM (Portland, Oregon – Legacy Good Samaritan, 1015 NW 22nd Ave.)

11th – Friends of Family Farmers InFARMation – 6:30PM-8:30PM (Portland, Oregon – Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison)
21stOregon Healthy Food in Health CareWorkgroup Meeting – 10:00AM-11:30AM (Location TBA)

7th– Cascade Pacific’s Local Food Resource Connection (Eugene, Oregon – Lane Community College)
10th-12th Organicology – (Portland, Oregon – Doubletree Hotel and Conference Center)
11th – 3rd Annual Northwest Environmental Health Conference – 9AM-4PM (Portland, Oregon - Smith Memorial Building, Portland State University)
18th - Oregon Healthy Food in Health CareWorkgroup Meeting – 10:00AM-11:30AM (Location TBA)
19th-21st– University of Oregon Food Justice, Security, and Sustainability Conference (Eugene, Oregon)