Toronto East General redefines ‘hospital food’

Leslie Carson, the “local food co-ordinator” for TEGH (Jaclyn Dunham/Toronto Observer)

Toronto East General Hospital (TEGH) is about to give hospital food a good name. Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Ontario government’s Greenbelt Fund, TEGH is promoting and incorporating more local food into its meals.

The hospital held a November event in its fourth floor cafeteria launching the new initiative. There were free samples and a cooking demonstration by Leslie Carson. Carson was hired as the hospital’s local food co-ordinator and is in charge of implementing the new plan.

“Just a simple change like changing the mashed potatoes over to Ontario-fresh mashed potatoes would have a huge impact on the patient clientele,” she said. “We’re basically replacing a frozen entrée type product with a freshly-made Ontario product.”

The Greenbelt is a protected 1.8 million-acre landscape of forests, wetlands and farmland surrounding the GTA. It also encompasses the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine and Rouge Park.

“The Greenbelt fund was started to help farmers access new markets that they previously didn’t have access to,” said Burkhard Mausberg, CEO of the Greenbelt Fund. “Our hospitals, schools, universities, colleges, long-term care facilities, our kindergartens, our jails, where do they get their food from and how can we impact that?”

Mausberg said 17 other public institutions were awarded grant money along with TEGH in this round of applications. The announcement of the grants was made on Oct. 18.

Barbara Smelt, manager of food services for TEGH, said that the goal “is to increase our spending on local Ontario products to $100,000, and to do that we are putting in place six patient menu items and 16 retail cafeteria items.”

Mausberg said TEGH was awarded the grant because of its three-point strategy, which includes developing a new food-buying policy, staff training and building awareness about local Ontario food and the Greenbelt.

“With $20,000, how much change is actually going to happen?” he said. “I think they estimated low. They were careful. They don’t want to over-promise but they promised us that they would increase Ontario foods by 10 per cent.”

Carson said TEGH will focus on food quality over quantity and portion control in the meals they serve to patients and retail customers.

“People need to start seeing beyond the actual dollar,” she said. “They have to see the value of the impact on the environment, on the local economy and nutrition as well.”

Smelt said the hospital will offer a made-to-order breakfast with all-Ontario food during the breakfast period every day.

“I think we’re giving back to the Ontario economy,” she said. “It’s a win-win for everybody when we can serve our patients and our retail customers local products.”