New Vegan-Friendly Coalition to Help Hospitals Provide Plant-Based Meals in 2020

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The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Humane Society of the United States, Oldways, Health Care Without Harm, and Meatless Monday are five nonprofits that have partnered to create the Plant-Based Hospital Food Coalition. This Coalition will provide support, resources, and hands-on training to hospital culinary teams to help them provide more plant-based meals.

It’s not unusual for hospitals to serve cheesy scrambled eggs, meatloaf, and chicken parmesan to heart disease and stroke patients. This new plant-forward coalition is helping hospitals nationwide provide patients plant-based food options that combat rather than contribute to cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

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Eating a more plant-forward diet is a recommendation made by both the American Medical Association and American College of Cardiology, which says that “hospitalization can be a ‘teachable moment’ for patients who are ready to embrace nutrition as part of the healing process.” Just last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed landmark legislation that follows these recommendations by guaranteeing that hospital patients in New York are offered a healthy plant-based option at every meal.

In 2018, California enacted legislation similar to the new law in New York, and earlier last year, the Washington DC Council introduced the Healthy Hospitals Amendment Act of 2019. This bill would require hospitals in DC to improve the nutritional quality of their menus by eliminating processed meat such as bacon and hot dogs and make plant-based options available.

These watershed laws have been bolstered by support from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a national nonprofit health organization with 12,000 physician members with an emphasis on prevention. The Physicians Committee also helps hospitals with the implementation of new plant-based menu items. The organization’s registered dietitians, nurses, and doctors deliver lunch-and-learns and employee wellness programs in hospitals to provide education on the evidence behind plant-based nutrition. They also offer chef training and a hospital toolkit with marketing materials and recipes to ease the transition.

This year the Physicians Committee will help New York hospitals implement their plant-based offerings, and the organization will also be working to further the legislation introduced in Washington, DC.

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Since 2015, the Humane Society of the United States has delivered plant-based training to nearly 11,000 culinary staff at large-scale food service operations, including working with more than 95 health care facilities to increase the availability of plant-based offerings in cafeterias, on patient menus, or both. In 2020, the HSUS is ramping up these efforts with new training created specifically for chefs, dietitians, and physicians within health care. Its goal is to work with health care systems all over the country and help them commit to 50 percent plant-based daily offerings by 2025.

Baptist Health South Florida sees more than 1 million patients annually. As a result of working with HSUS, after the first year of its launch, there was a 93 percent increase in plant-based sales, with an average of 40 percent of customers choosing the plant-based options daily. Before working with the HSUS, 5 percent of meals at New Jersey’s Valley Hospital were plant-based; now, it’s 35 percent. The hospital has committed to working with HSUS to increase its plant-based offerings to become 50 percent of its menu within the next two years. Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital in Washington didn’t offer any plant-based entrees before working with the HSUS; now, approximately 50 percent of the café and patient menu items are plant-based.

Nutrition nonprofit Oldways has developed the Oldways Plant Forward Plates Healthcare Toolkit, a comprehensive roadmap that hospitals can follow to add high quality, cost-effective, and 100 percent plant-based meals to their foodservice programs. Plant Forward Plates features more than 40 recipes scaled up to 100 servings, therapeutic menu plans, HACCP instructions, nutritional analysis, and food-ordering guides to match the scaled recipes. The fee for the Toolkit is being waived to encourage hospitals to make the change. 

Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care Program has been working with health care facilities for more than ten years to reduce overall meat consumption and cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions while serving more plant-forward meals. The organization’s most recent survey found that 69 percent of hospitals in their network is working to reduce meat in patient and retail settings.

In 2018, Health Care Without Harm partnered with the World Resources Institute to bring the Cool Food Pledge to health care. The pledge aims to reduce signatories’ greenhouse gas emissions from food purchasing by 25 percent by 2030. Health care signatories receive technical assistance from Health Care Without Harm in developing their plans to reduce their climate impact by implementing plant-forward menus. To date, 30 health care facilities have signed on to the Cool Food Pledge, representing more than 35 million meals annually.

This year, Health Care Without Harm will continue working with its network of more than 1,200 US hospitals to implement plant-forward menus and assisting them in tracking, goal setting, and promotion of their progress.

Launched in 2003 by The Monday Campaigns in association with the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Meatless Monday promotes a simple message: One day a week, cut out meat for personal health and the health of the planet. The campaign provides free evidence-based resources and creative materials to hospitals and other organizations to encourage people to start with a small change that can influence larger shifts in their diet and can improve their health and help reduce environmental impact.

Meatless Monday is promoted at New York-Presbyterian in New York City and NYC Health+Hospitals, the largest public health care system in the United States, as well as in other health care systems around the country. 

The concept has been adopted in more than 40 countries and translated into 22 languages. In 2020, it is expanding its efforts to engage even more organizations in reducing meat consumption. It also offers free resources to all hospitals to make an impact in 2020 by embracing plant-based menus for patient health and satisfaction and environmental sustainability.