Best Practices and Models

The good news is that when it comes to fixing problems related to nutrition, health, and food systems – great solutions already exist. We often don’t need to “recreate the wheel”, rather, we simply need to “find the good and praise it”. That is exactly what we will do here in this section of the Nutrition Toolbox.

Food System - Best Practices & Models
REAL Certified

REAL-CERTIFIED-LOGO-2015You walk into your favorite restaurant that you’ve eaten at for the last five years. You order the dish that never fails to satisfy your hunger and get ready to dig in. Right before you take your first bite, your mind is suddenly stuck in time and you begin to question this dish and the restaurant that you have been a loyal customer to for half a decade.

How many of these ingredients are fresh? How many are processed? How much sugar has been added? Do the owners buy local ingredients? Are these ingredients sustainable? Is this real food?

All these questions can be answered by Responsible Epicurean Agricultural Leadership (REAL) Certified, a program developed by the United States Healthful Food Council (USHFC) to increase the profitability of healthy and sustainable food in the food and foodservice industries. The USHFC was founded by the current chairman and CEO Lawrence Williams in hopes of improving the health of Americans. They are a non-profit and non-governmental organization aimed at fighting diet-related diseases and increasing the production of healthful and sustainable food.

REAL Certified was created in order to become the trusted and recognized seal of excellence for food producers, restaurants, and food services that are committed to providing healthy and sustainable food. Ever walked into a building and notice that it had the LEED certification plaque? That means the buildings meets the standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council in being sustainable and resource efficient. Similar to LEED, REAL Certified uses a point system that covers many different criteria such as menu analysis and the source of their ingredients to certify a restaurant with a team of independent dietitians. With input from experts from around the food industry, you can expect high standards must be met to become REAL Certified.

Many restaurants and food service providers are becoming REAL Certified in cities throughout the country and these places can be found here. It is exciting to see so many small restaurants and chains striving to become certified, but even more exciting that dining services at universities and corporations are following the same path. In July 2015, Stanford University became the first university to become REAL Certified. This sets new standards for universities wanting to do the same and provide to their students healthy and sustainable food. REAL Certified is also making headlines in Tennessee where many eateries are the first to become in the area to become certified. All this buzz is showing just how important this certification means to the many restaurants and food services across the country.

We need to recognize those in the industry that are doing things that are better for our health.
Lawrence Williams, Founder of the USHFC

By setting a standard in the food industry and business like many other third-party certification programs have, REAL Certified can be effective in changing the way food services and restaurants operate and have a positive impact on food systems.
Now take a step back and think of the dish you’re about to eat. It never hurts to know if the ingredients are locally sourced, real, or free of added sugars. Being a mindful consumer  can go a long way in your life and with programs like REAL Certified, consumers have the ability to seek out healthy and sustainable food and improve their health.

School Systems - Best Practices & Models
Wellness City Challenge

The Wellness City Challenge is a prime example of the best practice and models in the school food system. Founded by chef and restaurant owner Cindy Gershen, Wellness City Challenge has been working with school districts in Northern California to transform the lives of students and improve their health through nutrition education. The WCC’s mission is to “mobilize community resources, empower citizens, and improve health through nutrition, education, and physical activity.”

One of the programs created by Wellness City Challenge is the Sustainable Hospitality Pathway It is a Career Technical Education program for students in the International Hospitality & Tourism Academy (IHTA) at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord, CA taught by Cindy Gershen and Patrick Oliver, a science teacher at MDHS. In this program, students learn about growing and eating sustainable foods and also study eco-tourism, agri-tourism, outdoor recreation and “greening traditional tourism”. Students also participate in the Sustainable Hospitality Pathway summer program where they learn to grow organic produce that the school’s food services can use.

“The Sustainable Hospitality Pathway invites students to explore new career opportunities through the lens of sustainability and health/nutrition.”

There are several aspects of the Sustainable Hospitality Pathway that makes it unique. Its Sustainable Tourism unit is designed to teach students about career opportunities in outdoor recreation and eco-tourism. Students participate in activities such as camping with the Sierra Club in Mt. Diablo State Park or kayaking with East Bay Regional Parks to gain exposure and an understanding for the outdoors.

The Garden is the outdoor classroom for students in the program where they learn to grown produce. They learn everything from turning the soil, planting seeds, and harvesting. The produce that is grown in the garden is then used in the Kitchen Classroom. Under the supervision of Cindy Gershen, students learn the basics of healthy cooking and prepare meals using only real ingredients. The class combines nutrition education and culinary arts so that students have a holistic view of food.

The Sustainable Hospitality Pathway has made major strides and continues to make an impact on students’ lives. The program gives opportunities for the students after they graduate high school where they can earn Healthy Restaurant Association certificates at the nearby Diablo Valley College. “What’s most important about this is [Gershen] is trying to change the culture of how we eat. This is not only for employment, but for life.

Health Systems - Best Practices & Models
Healthcare Without Harm

Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is a global coalition that was formed in 1996 after the United States Environmental Protection Agency identified medical waste incineration as the leading source of dioxin emissions, which is a very potent carcinogen. The organization, which first formed in California, hoped to change the health care sector in order protect patients and the community from these harmful chemicals while holding the sector accountable for their own environmental footprint. Their mission is simple:

Transform health care worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint, becomes a community anchor for sustainability and a leader in the global movement for environmental health and justice.”

The HCWH’s program goals range from the promotion of green and sustainable health care buildings to the collaboration with hospitals to purchase and serve sustainably grown food to patients and employees. In this section, we will be highlighting their program focused on Healthy Food in Health Care.

While many programs are created to transform the food industry as a whole to make it more sustainable, Healthy Food in Health Care puts all the attention on developing a sustainable food system in the health sector. HCWH has partnered with over 1,000 hospitals across North America to source and serve sustainable foods that protect the environmental and public health. The program has brought attention to four issues in the food system that advances it work through four core initiatives:

  1. Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture
  2. Chemicals in Our Food System
  3. The Food and Climate Connection
  4. Resilient Communities

Today, healthy food isn’t defined by just its nutritional value anymore. It is defined by the culminating end product of a food system that protects the environment, advances social justice and animal welfare, and provides nutritious for the people now and in the future. Check out this paper that focuses on environmental nutrition and how it expands on the definition of healthy foods beyond calories and fats. By using a broader definition of healthy food to include the public health impacts of the entire food system (social, economic, and environmental), the focus can be shifted from personal responsibility for healthy eating to a collective social responsibility.
The healthcare sector has the opportunity to harness its expertise and purchasing power to put an environmental nutrition approach into action and to make food a fundamental part of prevention-based health care.”