Is this resilient farm-to-fork system 'proof of concept' to revolutionize hospital food?


By Molly McCluskey, GreenBiz

January 11, 2022


An ambitious program launched by executive chef Santana Diaz at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in 2018 was meant to address one of health care’s starkest contradictions — the malnutrition that affects up to 50 percent of hospitalized patients around the world. The farm-to-table chef planned to serve only healthy, organic food sourced from within 250 miles of the three hospital locations in the Sacramento area, with a range of custom menus for all diets, served around the clock to meet the dining preferences of the medical center staff, patients and visitors who collectively consumed 6,500 meals a day there.


Under the best of circumstances, the program was bound to a be a challenge. Over the course of 2019, Diaz and his team had already implemented nearly 70 percent of the multibillion-dollar food program with local and sustainable sources. Then, the pandemic hit.


On Feb. 26, 2020, UC Davis had the first reported community-spread case of COVID-19. On March 3, I was at UC Davis Medical Center interviewing Diaz and his team about their groundbreaking program as part of a bigger movement to revolutionize hospital food nationwide. On March 13, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global pandemic.


Over the next 18 months, the UC Davis program would be upended and reconfigured, with multiple contingency plans to address everything from labor shortages, as staff received bonus leave, to challenges in getting foods such as baby formula that shipped from other parts of the country as freight slowed. But the hospital’s produce, meat and dairy, all sourced through agreements with local farms, continued on schedule.


"When we started our farm-to-hospital concept, we never could have anticipated a global pandemic," Diaz says, "but the pandemic provided proof of concept."


In contrast to UC Davis’ program, the country’s largest food wholesaler, Sysco Corp, recently turned away customers in some areas...


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