Locally grown, sustainably farmed and processed food choices are good for the environment and for individual health. Kaiser Permanente offers sustainable food choices on patient menus at many of our hospitals. By partnering with local growers, we support the development of local and sustainable food systems as a public health tool.
Our 2025 Goal: We will buy all of our food locally or from farms and producers that use sustainable practices, including the responsible use of antibiotics.
Currently, 24% of Kaiser Permanente’s food spend goes to sustainable or local food. That is $7.4 million toward sustainable food, including $1.8 million on antibiotic-free beef and poultry.
The need to support good nutrition has taken on added urgency with the increased understanding of the obesity epidemic in the United States and its causes. We also understand that food that is not sustainably produced impacts health in several ways:
- Food grown with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers exposes farm workers and consumers to those chemicals.
- Wildlife and aquatic life are impacted in deltas and other areas where agricultural chemicals accumulate.
- High volume livestock production often includes the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics that can interfere with human antibiotic effectiveness.
- Some types of food processing and packaging result in harmful exposures to humans.
Obesity and its health consequences result in the need for more health care services (surgeries, pharmaceuticals, etc.), which use natural resources and energy.
Over the past decade, a farmers market movement has taken hold at Kaiser Permanente, one that many other hospital systems have emulated. Kaiser Permanente hosts more than 50 farmers markets at its facilities and/or in the community that help staff, members and the community eat well and make good choices by increasing access to fresh produce.
Supporting farmers markets and buying food locally have many wonderful benefits:
- Encourages and stabilizes local economies and strengthens local infrastructure.
- Supports purchasing from small, minority-owned businesses.
- Helps to reduce exposure to toxic substances in farming communities and to consumers by supporting organic or sustainable farming methods.
- Helps address obesity and diabetes prevention by encouraging fresh, healthy produce consumption.
- Local and sustainably grown food from small- to mid-scale farms often tastes better than large scale, commercially grown, mass-produced food due to its freshness and growing methods.
Learn more about how Kaiser Permanente is promoting healthy, sustainable food in our Food for Health blog.
Sustainable Food Scorecard
In 2012, Kaiser Permanente developed a Sustainable Food Scorecard to evaluate potential food and food service vendors’ ability to support its sustainable food purchasing initiatives. The scorecard has been an instrumental tool in the contracting process, providing Kaiser Permanente with:
- insight into potential vendors’ corporate and distribution practices, and thus, their commitment to sustainability
- detailed lists of the types of products vendors offer by product category and how they meet Kaiser Permanente’s Sustainable Food Criteria (which align with the Green Guide for Health Care Food Service Credits)
- a commitment from potential vendors to track and report on Kaiser Permanente’s sustainable spending
The scorecard is included in all food-related requests for proposals sent to potential vendors. Each is rated based on its corporate and distribution practices, the selection of products offered that meet Kaiser Permanente’s Sustainable Food Criteria and the ability to track and report on the organization’s sustainable spending. These scores are then used in the vendor selection process, which also includes an evaluation of vendor service, quality and assurance of products, cost, and other factors.
The Sustainable Food Scorecard is setting sustainable food standards within the industry. As distributors are exposed to this type of tool and sustainability criteria, the industry begins to adapt to meet customer needs, and access to and tracking of sustainable food becomes more readily available. The scorecard has been an essential tool for Kaiser Permanente in partnerships with group purchasing organizations (GPOs) and distributors to clarify a shared vision of sustainability and objectives in realizing it.
Sourcing the volume of sustainable food for an organization of Kaiser Permanente’s size is a challenge, and there is much more that can be done. But we remain committed to spending and sourcing locally and sustainably to support the health of people and the environment.
Reducing Exposure to Toxins in Food
Kaiser Permanente recently embarked on a public health project with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) to understand the disproportionate impact of toxins in food on underserved communities and to identify messages and strategies that would appeal to consumers and promote healthy eating.
Read the IATP Report here.
What you can do
- When you can, buy certified organic foods; ask your food providers (markets, restaurants, etc.) to stock additional certified organic foods if their selection is inadequate.
- Seek out small, local farmers who use fewer synthetic chemicals to grow your food. The United States Department of Agriculture offers a search engine for farmers markets across the United States where you can ask farmers about their growing practices before you buy your food. Find one near you!
- Reduce your portion size of meat to 3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards) and seek out sustainable (e.g., hormone and antibiotic free, organic, grass fed) meat sources.
- Grow your own fruit and vegetable garden even if you have only a sunny indoor room, porch, or tiny backyard. If you don’t have the space, see if there is a community garden in your neighborhood. Some great tips can be found in the book, “How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine,” by John Jeavons.
- Dine with reusable food service ware rather than disposable service ware. For a guide to selecting food service ware, see Health Care Without Harm’s “Choosing Environmentally Preferable Food Service Ware.”
- Avoid using pesticides in and around your home. Before using pesticides, try other alternatives such as sealing access points to your home. Get more ideas on the Center for Environmental Health’s website.