Sustainable Actions

By Hillary Bisnett, Health Care Without Harm's Healthy Food in Health Care program, Michigan Director, Ecology Center on April 26, 2013

The Farm at St JoesHealth professionals advocate for a greener food system. 

Clinicians and health care professionals regularly treat diseases associated with the industrialized food system, from pesticide exposure to the excess consumption of nutritionally poor processed foods.

Many health care providers, however, often think and act outside their clinics to change our food system and positively impact human health to curb disease rates and doctor’s visits. Today, doctors, nurses, dietitians, and other health care practitioners are crucial leaders in creating a more sustainable food system. They regularly testify at hearings, work with their food service departments on sustainable food sourcing, and teach their patients about healthy food.


Healthy Food in Health Care Awards

Healthy Food in Health Care’s biannual awards recognize these clinician champions. Launched in 2011, Healthy Food in Health Care’s awards program benchmarks and shines light on the transformative work happening in food service and sustainable food advocacy in the health care sector across North America. The goals of the awards program are to recognize significant achievement and leadership; spur competition to achieve measurable, lasting results; encourage continuous improvement; and benchmark progress in sustainable operations in health care food service. Award categories include Sustainable Food Procurement, Food Climate Health Connection, Exemplary Food Service Professional, and Clinical Advocacy and Engagement.

At this year’s CleanMed in Boston, our Clinical Advocacy and Engagement Award will recognize three leading clinical health professionals for making the critical link between our industrialized food system and public health. The award encourages innovative program development and educational outreach.

Past award winners have engaged with and supported sustainable food initiatives within the food service departments of their health care facilities; incorporated messaging of healthy and sustainable food into clinical patient care, their professional networks, and communities; and participated in broader advocacy efforts in the policy arena, from the local to the national level. This year’s awards will be presented on Thursday, April 25.


Catching up with 2011 Award Winners

Healthy Food in Health Care recently checked in with our first and second place Clinical Advocacy and Engagement Award winners from 2011 to hear about their latest advocacy efforts.

First Place, Lisa McDowell, RD, clinical leader for Nutrition Support, St. Joseph Mercy Health System in Michigan, shared that she was thrilled to be recognized with the honor of the award two years ago. “It underscores our efforts to lead by example and make healthy food options accessible to all,” she commented. McDowell went on to point out that her hospital’s mission is to “heal body, mind, and spirit; to improve the health of our communities; and to steward the resources entrusted to us,” so working on sustainable food issues only seemed natural.

As a clinical dietitian treating patients with morbid obesity, McDowell has been researching and working on ways to provide healing foods rich in nutrients and void processed ingredients. She shared that growing produce on the hospital’s farm became the easiest venue for direct access to such food, and has allowed her to incorporate produce into the clinical setting at the hospital.

McDowell also revealed details about upcoming activities: “In May, we will be opening our third hoop house [a greenhouse], in partnership with the Eisenhower Center, to allow patients therapeutic recovery from traumatic brain injury. Patients will be providing vocational support to the hoop house. This hoop house was created with wheelchair accessibility and raised gardens. In addition, the hoop house has a bicycle that is connected to a battery to generate power and store it for backup use.”

McDowell passed on this advice for future advocates: “Think creatively and start anywhere. The system issues are so big, and if you think of it as gathering small sticks, soon you’ll have a bundle.”

Second Place, Tim Goltz, MD, Family Physician, Lincoln County Healthcare in Maine, first became interested in the connection between health and the environment during medical school, when he was exposed to physician teachers who were very engaged with the communities where they worked. “My interest grew significantly about 10 years ago when I attended a conference on obesity and learned about the multiple environmental factors contributing to the obesity epidemic. I learned that obesity is much more closely related to diet and our built environment than any contribution from genetics,” Goltz says.

He went on to add, “I am able to integrate my concerns about environmental factors and my work as a family physician by taking time to lead a group that promotes employee health for our hospital system and talking with individual patients about buying local, eating more fruits and vegetables, and avoiding processed foods. I am excited that our employee CSA program continues to grow, that last year we started growing vegetables on campus, and that we are looking into composting on campus.”

Goltz leaves other clinicians with advice as well, “[Do] not hesitate to advocate for a healthier food system. The health of everyone could improve if we were able to make stronger connections between those who grow food and those who eat food. I find it rewarding to work on changes at the community level and would love to have more company.”


Food Matters: A Training Program for Clinical Advocates

To support clinicians like McDowell and Goltz, Healthy Food in Health Care worked with an advisory committee of clinicians to create Food Matters, a training program for clinicians about the public and environmental health impacts of our industrialized food system. Food Matters trainings have taken place throughout the country, and the curriculum and resources are now available online. Complimentary clinic and patient educational resources also are available for use.

 For more information about the Healthy Food in Health Care Program, and to access a variety of tools and resources, visit


Check out Healthy Food in Health Care’s website to access all of the free Food Matters resources for clinicians

Learn more about our biannual awards and survey:

Read more about our 2011 award winners in our Menu of Change report:

Our 2013 Menu of Change report will be released at CleanMed.