A couple times a week, nurse Brent Cheney carts the food scraps produced in the kitchen at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center — mostly seeds, rinds and peelings — to his family's farm for the pigs, goats and chickens there to enjoy.
"He takes about 13 tons a year away from us," said Brian Nelson, sustainability programs manager for PeaceHealth Southwest.
That food waste giveaway is just one of the ways the Vancouver, Washington, hospital is reducing its carbon footprint and piloting sustainability programs for other facilities in the PeaceHealth system.
To curtail the amount of food left on the trays, the hospital assigns a "unit host" trained in hospital dietary needs. The host helps patients make healthy and reasonable choices and might suggest things like an egg or yogurt for a high-protein meal. The hosts usually work four days in a row, so they get to know patients' preferences. "Sort of the ulterior motive to that is if you're going to order something that you want, you're less likely to waste it," said Nelson.
The hospital also offers plant-based options for patient meals and in its cafeteria. It doesn't go out of its way to label anything vegan or vegetarian, simply because that may deter some people from choosing it.
PeaceHealth Southwest is part of Cool Food, an initiative of the World Resources Institute that helps food service companies, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, cities and universities reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions. The hospital has taken the Cool Food Pledge, a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food it serves by 25% by 2030.
Among other Catholic systems or hospitals that have taken the pledge are Providence Saint Joseph Health and CommonSpirit Health's Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.
Last year, PeaceHealth Southwest started using a food waste digester, which has diverted more than 23 tons of food waste in almost a year.
In a related effort to cut waste, the hospital provides reusable containers for staff and visitors who want to pick up food from the cafeteria. People then bring back the containers to collection machines on campus.
Amy Jansen, the hospital's director of food and nutrition, noted that all the meals served at the hospital are made in-house and with produce from local distributors. "We do get compliments on the quality of the food pretty frequently," she said.
Nelson pointed out that PeaceHealth Southwest tries to offer good food as well as be a good steward of the planet.
"We try not to be the 'hospital food people,'" said Nelson. "Certainly, we try to use it as an opportunity to give people healthy food and try to make a difference on the environmental side at the same time."