Patients are what they eat

While championing health and wellness, Whitehorse General Hospital serves its patients french fries, pesticide-laden vegetables, hormone and…

While championing health and wellness, Whitehorse General Hospital serves its patients french fries, pesticide-laden vegetables, hormone and antibiotic-laced meats and packaged, processed bread.

“Organic food, if we could afford it, would be a good option,” said hospital dietician Laura Wilson.

“But what we serve is just as healthy.”

Local and international food specialists don’t agree.

“The hospital’s food is full of chemicals,” said Alpine Bakery owner Suat Tuzlak.

“And here they are, trying to improve someone’s health.”

More than 60 per cent of the population is at risk of disease because they do not eat in a manner optimal for health, according to the Toronto Food Policy Council.

“The evidence is overwhelming that a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables and moderate in protein and fat is healthy for most people,” says the council report.

“But neither the food nor the health-care systems are properly structured to reflect this reality.”

“I am convinced that with homemade food someone would heal faster than with hospital food,” said Tuzlak.

“There is no doubt in my mind.”

When Tuzlak first opened his bakery 22 years ago, he approached the hospital.

“I thought they would be serving their patients lots of potato puree,” he said.

“It’s good food for sick people.

“And potato water is great for making bread.”

Tuzlak hoped to use the hospital’s potato water for his daily baking.

But there was no potato water.

In fact, the hospital didn’t peel potatoes at all, said Tuzlak.

“Everything was already packaged and processed when it arrived.”

However, for the last 10 years the hospital has been peeling its own carrots, turnips and potatoes and gets fresh cauliflower, onions, celery and zucchini, said director of nutrition services Patricia St. James.

“We try to make things from scratch as much as we can,” she said.

“And any given day, we’ll have some healthy options in the cafeteria.”

“When you say ‘hospital food,’ people laugh because it’s so lousy,” Health Care Without Harm’s Jamie Harvie told Time magazine.

As places of healing, hospitals should provide food that’s healthy for people and the environment, says Health Care Without Harm’s website.

“From the way food is grown, to the way it’s packaged, shipped, consumed and discarded, hospitals’ food-purchasing decisions can play an important role, both direct and indirectly, in our ecological health.”

The Whitehorse hospital can only order its food from federally inspected, approved suppliers, said St. James, who orders most of its foodstuff from Edmonton, Alberta.

And ordering organic food isn’t feasible, she said.

“The local supermarkets here can afford to offer organic produce because people pay top dollar and don’t mind,” she said.

“But when you’re looking at a facility that is funded by the taxpayer, and only gets limited resources, there is no way we could afford it.”

“In a beautiful world, that would be the ultimate, but feasibility-wise, we just can’t.”

However, some hospitals are beginning to offer patients healthy, organic food choices.

“We started offering some local organic produce in 2002,” said St. Luke’s Hospital hospitality services manager Lee Ann Tomczyk from Minnesota.

“This is health care — we need to start providing healthier food options.”

The Duluth hospital offers various organic fruit and greens on its salad bar and only serves growth-hormone-free milk.

The milk, which the hospital buys from a local dairy, is actually cheaper than the hormone-laced milk available from its wholesaler.

“And, on the organic greens, we break-even,” she said.

For Tomczyk, healthy eating is only part of the equation.

“Organics is not the key,” she said.

“Local sustainability is the key.

“We need to support the people of the community, so they stay here and we work together.

“It’s common sense, but with big hospitals and big corporations you lose that common sense sometimes.”

There is a big difference between run-of-the-mill institutional food and healthy food that is produced with a social, environmental and ethical consciousness, said Tuzlak.

“Every dollar we spend on food is a vote for the world we want.”

After being approached by various doctors and nurses, Tuzlak offered to supply the Whitehorse hospital with his homemade, organic breads.

He was told his food was good, but too expensive, he said.

“But the hospital has a social responsibility,” said Tuzlak.

“It shouldn’t be trying to save money — the hospital’s priority should be health.”

Hospital food is a little behind the times, said Whitehorse naturopath Janice Millington.

“In my experience, people feel better, are healthier and see improvements in their chronic health conditions when they move towards a diet with whole, natural foods,” she said.

“And I believe diets high in refined foods, sugar, flour, dairy products, saturated fats are a major cause of many of the chronic conditions that are on the rise today.

“Those foods actually hinder the immune system and, therefore, don’t foster healing.”

The hospital is more disease-focused and lacks education in nutrition, added Millington.

“If the food is better, people will heal better,” said Tuzlak.

“Let food be your medicine — we are what we eat.”