Why plant-forward (Practice Greenhealth)

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Plant-forward is a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, foods from plant sources – fruits and vegetables (produce), whole grains, legumes (pulses), nuts and seeds, plant oils, and herbs and spices – and reflects evidence-based principles of health and sustainability. - Culinary Institute of America
 

Plant-forward is the most delicious “quadruple” bottom line approach that health care can take –  achieving social, environmental, and financial goals while providing great-tasting food. 

Explore why food champions in every profession from chefs to clinicians, food service to HR, and sales to sustainability are going plant-forward.

What's your "why?" Select any option to go straight there:

 

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Patient, employee, and community health

“As chefs and food service operators are able to look beyond the immediate public health emergency and begin to rebuild, they have a critical opportunity to lead the food service industry in pivoting toward menus that strengthen our immune systems and improve overall health, lessen the impact of future pandemics, and secure a sustainable planet for our children.”

– Dr. Walter Willett, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health 

A plant-forward diet supports patient, employee, and community health. Six in 10 adults have a chronic disease and 4 in 10 have two or more. Community health needs assessments frequently identify diet-related health conditions among the priority health needs in communities. The CDC reports that 90% of the United State’s $3.5 trillion in health care spending are for people with chronic and mental health conditions, with diet-related diseases costing in the hundreds of billions in lost productivity. A plant-forward diet can lower the risk of diet-related disease and improve health and wellbeing, leading to better health outcomes and more productive employees. By shifting our diets towards plants, while reducing animal proteins we help fight climate change, which has its own health implications, and ensure that we can grow healthy food into the future. Consider the following:

  • A poor diet contributes to 4 out of 10 of the leading causes of death in the United States.
  • Healthier diets, including the consumption of plant proteins could save $50 billion in health care costs.
  • Climate change is the greatest threat to public health that we face, globally. The health impacts of climate change include increases in heat-related illnesses and death; extreme weather-related injuries and mortality; aggravated chronic illnesses; spread of infectious diseases; and many others. 
  • The world population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. The production of animal proteins consumes 83% of the available agricultural land and generates only 18% of the total calories consumed by humans, and 37% of the protein consumed. In order to feed the world and have food security, we need to reduce our high consumption of animal proteins.

What can I do as a clinician?

  • Talk with administrators and your facility’s food service department about adopting a plant-forward approach in your food service.
  • Share the Plant-Forward Future resources with your food service leadership to help them implement, and market plant-forward dishes successfully and track their progress in doing so.
  • Encourage administrators and food service to join the Cool Food Pledge.
  • Share the benefits of a plant-forward diet with your patients.
  • Get inspired! Read about Dr. Robert Ostfeld’s Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center.
     

What can I do as an HR or wellness professional?

  • Run plant-forward challenges and other incentives for employees.
  • Talk with administrators and your facility’s food service department about adopting a plant-forward approach in your food service.
  • Share the Plant-Forward Future resources with your food service leadership to help them implement, and market plant-forward dishes successfully and track their progress in doing so.
  • Encourage administrators and food service to join the Cool Food Pledge.

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Sustainability

“[Our plant-forward contest submission] was our special. It was by far the biggest seller of the day. People appreciated the use of organic as well as local items”
– Laura Inukai, St. John’s Health, Wyoming, 2019 Health Care Culinary Contest finalist

A plant-forward approach to food service is an important strategy to address climate change for your health care facility or system. Hospitals and health systems recognize that climate change is the greatest threat to public health of our time and are addressing their scope 1 and scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions by building energy efficient buildings, capturing waste anesthetic gas, and seeking alternatives to fossil fuels for energy use. The greatest source of a health care facility’s GHG emissions is in scope 3, and procurement of animal proteins makes up a significant portion in that category.  

Food production is responsible for approximately 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the Science-Based Targets Initiative estimates the need to reduce emissions from food production by 67% by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. 

The Cool Food Pledge puts health care facilities on a path to meet this target by setting an interim goal of a 25% reduction of GHGs from food by 2030. Join Cool Food (free for Practice Greenhealth members) for individualized support for reaching this goal, or set your own emissions goal and utilize Plant-Forward Future resources to implement a plan and track your progress.

Going plant-forward can also help hospitals to be better stewards of the environment, generally, and to ensure food security into the future. The production of animal proteins consumes 83% of the available agricultural land and generates only 18% of the total calories consumed by humans, and 37% of the protein consumed. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) keep meat prices low, however, the costs of cheap meat have been externalized and the public pays the cost through environmental degradation, poor quality of life, and poor health.  CAFOs are also a breeding ground for zoonotic diseases like COVID-19, which can pass from animals to humans.

Plant proteins require significantly less water and land to produce, and the production of plant proteins, such as legumes, enrich our soils –  mitigating topsoil loss, which the Food and Agriculture Organization has warned about. Further, with the global population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, reducing meat in high income countries is imperative to ensure we can feed the world without clearing additional natural lands which, as a practice, also contributes to climate change.  

What can I do as a sustainability professional or green team member?

  • Include animal protein reduction in your facility or system’s climate change plan in order to address scope 3 emissions. The Cool Food calculator can help calculate your emissions over time. Or join the Cool Food Pledge and we will calculate them for you.
  • Talk with administrators and your facility’s food service department about adopting a plant-forward approach in your food service.
    • Share the consumer trend data on the increasing demand for plant-forward to ensure stakeholders that this is a smart business move.  
  • Share the Plant-Forward Future resources with your food service leadership to help them implement, and market plant-forward dishes successfully and track their progress in doing so.
  • Encourage administrators and food service to join the Cool Food Pledge by sharing the direct, individualized support that is included as well as the recognition you will receive as part of an international, cross-sector cohort.
  • Clinicians can be powerful advocates within a hospital and can be influential to leadership. Share the health benefits of a plant-forward diet and the ways in which they can be supportive to your efforts.
  • Work with purchasing and contract professionals to ensure plant-forward goals are articulated in agreements.
  • Encourage your food service staff to enter Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth’s culinary contest which runs annually beginning in October.

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Stay on trend

“I don’t sell plant-based, I sell delicious looking and tasting food that just happens to be plant-based,”

– UCSF food service director Dan Henroid 

Practice Greenhealth member University of San Francisco Medical Center is capitalizing on the opportunity plant-forward represents. UCSF food service director Dan Henroid began the shift to plant-forward in order to stay competitive with restaurants outside the hospital. How were sales affected? According to Henroid, sales are going up each year.

“Our roots and shoots program is a great example - it has a catchy name and allows our chefs to get creative in coming up with dishes that combine root vegetables with other vegetables and plant proteins. Nowhere did it call out plant-based it just focused on the taste and theme and has been a top-selling item.”

According to Project Drawdown, shifting to plant-rich diets, globally, would save $1 trillion in annual health care costs and lost productivity. Health care facilities can lead this culture change and directly affect the health of the communities they serve while saving money.

Fortunately, consumer preferences have already shifted in a plant-forward direction so not only can health care realize operational savings, but they can increase sales in their retail food settings. 

In the National Restaurant Association’s 2020 “What’s Hot” survey, plant-based proteins landed at No. 2 in its top-ten list, and according to the association’s forecast in the Restaurant Industry 2030 report, it is expected that plant-based proteins will continue to grow in popularity over the next decade. 

With 44% of consumers trying to increase their intake of plant-based proteins like beans and nuts, and nearly 8 in 10 Millennials eating meat alternatives, health care facilities can increase food sales and attract and retain talent by taking a plant-forward approach to food service. Further, plant-forward menus can help a health care facility advance its climate, environmental, and food security goals.

“A full 70% of the world population reportedly is either reducing meat consumption or leaving meat off the table altogether,” reports Forbes Magazine and Millennials are driving the shift. In the health care setting, Facilities Management Magazine reports that plant-forward menus can lead to an increase in patient and employee satisfaction rates, and that 83% of diners in hospitals say they would choose plant-forward options at least sometimes.  

The business case for plant-forward is compelling and the Culinary Institute of America’s Plant Forward by the Numbers shows that plant-forward is an opportunity for growth that should not be ignored by food service operators. Consider some of the statistics reported:

  • 44% of consumers are seeking to reduce their meat intake. 
  • 45% of consumers believe eating too much meat can negatively impact their health
  • Vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes took 7 of the top 10 orders of the year on GrubHub in 2019. 
  • The Salad-Healthful sector within the Top 500 chains―a segment largely focused on plant-based and plant-forward options like salads, bowls, and smoothies―was the growth leader in limited-service restaurants two years in a row with increases of 12% in unit counts and 11.3% in sales in 2019.
  • 21% of consumers who are limiting animal protein to be more environmentally friendly in 2020 (grew from 16% in 2017).  

What can I do as a food service professional?

  • Utilize the implementation resources to develop a plant-forward culinary program. You will find recipes from Meatless Mondays, a full plant-forward meal planning guide with recipes and order guides from Old Ways, a resource on getting creative with your salad bar, and much more.
  • Check out the marketing resources to learn how to market plant-forward dishes research-backed strategies. How do you describe plant-forward dishes to customers? What do you call them? Should they go in a separate section on the menu? All these questions are answered in the World Resources Institute’s Behavioral Playbook. You’ll also find a new menu marketing tool that will help you name and describe dishes so they sell. Finally, you will find infographics, posters, and screen images to extoll the benefits of plant-forward and help you communicate your impact to your community.
  • Set a goal and track your progress utilizing our tracking spreadsheets.
  • Measure the greenhouse gas impact of your plant-forward program by using the Cool Food calculator or join the Cool Food Pledge and we’ll measure the impact for you, while providing tailored assistance in meeting your plant-forward goals. 
  • Talk with your administrators about a plant-forward meal program and share the plant-forward consumer data that shows plant-forward is good for business. Also share that plant-forward meets their health and environmental goals.
  • Talk with your green team or sustainability lead about including meat-reduction in your facility’s climate change mitigation plan.
  • Engage your facility’s employee wellness department and enlist their support in promoting a plant-forward diet.
  • Clinicians can be powerful advocates within a hospital and can be influential to leadership. Share the health benefits of a plant-forward diet and the ways in which they can be supportive to your efforts.
  • Work with purchasing and contract professionals to ensure plant-forward goals are articulated in agreements.
  • Submit a plant-forward recipe to Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth’s culinary contest which runs annually beginning in October.

 


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