Tag Archives: organic

Transforming hospital food: a conversation with Chef Frank Caputo

17 Dec

IMG_1848During a breakout session at the Blogher 2012 conference this past August, we found ourselves in a room of health professionals discussing the current state of hospital food. As hands were raised, and points brought up, we heard from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) that they were breaking ground on an organic farm near their hospital in the middle of the dessert!

Naturally, we approached them and exchanged information. We wanted to learn more, so we organized an interview with their Chef, Frank Caputo to discuss the birth of their inspiring farm, and the impacts it will have on their community.

Butter Beans: What is the mission of CTCA?

Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is the home of integrative and compassionate cancer care. We never stop searching for and providing powerful and innovative therapies to heal the whole person, improve quality of life and restore hope.

Butter Beans: Why have you made healthy food one of your goals? Why are you emphasizing nutrition as an integral part of your mission?

We know that there is a correlation between good nutrition and better health. For me personally, I think the biggest demand is from our patients because they want better nutrition, they want better ingredients, the information is out there for them to see. They’re always asking us if their food is all natural or certified organic and that lends itself to how we cook. We cook from scratch and we know what’s in our food. My team and I work very closely with our Registered Dieticians in the Nutrition Department to make sure our patients have the best food available for their nutritional needs.

IMG_1724-1Butter Beans: Tell us more about the goals of your organic farm program.

One of our goals is to promote good health in general. We encourage our patients to adopt a more plant-based diet and limit their amount of red meat.

Another one of our goals is to educate our patients on nutrition, food, sources of food, and the quality of our food from the very beginning. We will introduce the philosophy of seasonal foods to our patients. They’ll be able to learn techniques on growing seasonal foods.

Our organic farm will allow us to re-localize our own food source. We are bringing the food that we use even closer to us; therefore, we’re cutting out the middle man – it’s literally coming out of the ground to the patients’ plates within minutes to hours.

Butter Beans: Have you used the farm as an educational tool in your hospital?

We plan on using the farm to educate patients on growing and planting their own produce. We plan on having harvesting seminar groups and cooking demonstrations by 2014 as well as a hands-on learning center. Additionally, the patient garden area of the organic farm will provide our patients with the therapeutic benefits of gardening.

IMG_1813Butter Beans: Have you seen a change in the way patients feel while staying in your hospital? Do you think the fresh food is making a difference?

Absolutely, all the patients are excited about the farm. They were excited about it even before anything was on paper because they’ve heard me talking about it. There’s been this growing excitement. Now that it’s coming to fruition, they’re even more excited to see it taking place.

Butter Beans: What are the reactions of patients when given your food?

They’re extremely thankful. It lends itself back to their knowledge of food and also their knowledge of what we do here specifically in the culinary department. They can’t believe this is hospital food. We are certainly not the norm. They’re not just surprised, they’re beyond surprised. They’re so happy that we take the amount of time that we do and make the investment to provide food that has a high nutritional value, looks good, tastes good and is healthy for them.

Butter Beans: What inspired you to become the executive chef for CTCA?

Initially, I have to give credit to my mentor Chef Jack Shoop who, at the time, was working as the Executive Chef at CTCA at Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia. I was unemployed and looking for a job. He tried to convince me to work in the hospital for about three months and I kept turning him down.

After a while, Chef Shoop told me, “I know you, you are ready for this mentally, physically, emotionally, this is where you’re going to grow into who you really are.” I didn’t know much about nutrition or working in a hospital, but saw this as an opportunity to help others, learn and continue my education.

What you don’t know today, you want to learn for tomorrow. Real food – we’re all going in that direction. It’s just a matter of time before we all start getting back to the roots of our food, down to the simplest ingredients. And knowing what’s in our food. We are what we eat. If you eat junk, we know that’s not the best for our bodies. If we eat food that is good with high nutritional value, we know that can only help us – and not just if you have cancer. Healthy food helps us throughout our lives.

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Butter Beans: What was it like to cook your first meals with freshly picked local organic produce from the farm?

Our first harvest will be later this winter, but cooking with produce from McClendon’s Select farms is amazing. Chef Shoop used to say, “In order for the food to smile back, you have to smile at the food. If you’re not smiling at your food, how can the food smile? Knowing you have a product that came out of the ground yesterday – how could you not smile?” That was Chef Shoop’s philosophy.

Butter Beans: What are your thoughts on the Healthy Hospital Food Initiative in NYC? Have you been seeing changes in the quality and tastiness of hospital food in other states and other hospitals?

I think it’s great that the city is providing guidelines to its hospitals that will give patients access to healthier food while they’re undergoing treatment for any illness. Hopefully this will inspire others to follow suit.

Butter Beans: What were some of the unexpected hurdles in this project?

Well, one of the main questions was how were we going to irrigate a farm in the middle of Arizona! So, we constructed a one acre irrigation lagoon that holds 2.6 million gallons of water and used the abandoned Roosevelt irrigation canal system for our water source. And even before that question, though was finding a farmer – a farmer who had the skills, knowledge and capability to produce certified organic produce. Anyone can put a farm up, but how do you make it the best farm it can be and managed by someone who truly cares?

Butter Beans: What motivates you to do your best every day?

First and foremost, our patients and the people who serve our patients motivate me to do my best every day. I try to instill that same philosophy in my team. Do better today than what you did yesterday.

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A big thank you goes out to CTCA and Chef Frank Caputo for your vision and leadership in transforming hospital food in our country. May others be inspired by your story, and follow suit!

Photos courtesy of CTCA

Conventional or Organic?

19 Sep

8099419727_c31c7bbe2cTwo weeks ago, Stanford University published their controversial study in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluding that organic produce has no added nutritional health benefits over their conventionally grown counterparts.

However, one of the few distinguishable advantages of organic fruits and vegetables is that there is a lower risk of pesticide exposure. Despite this, the conventionally grown produce that was reviewed contained pesticide levels within the safety limits set by the EPA.

It was noted in the study that children are especially vulnerable when it comes to pesticide exposure, since they are maturing and their immune systems are more sensitive. Because childhood is a critical period in human development, exposure to pesticides during that time may cause adverse effects.

According to the FDA, foods labeled “organic” must be certified under the National Organic Program. They must also be grown and processed using organic farming methods that promote biodiversity and recycling. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, bioengineered genes, antibiotics, hormones, and radiation cannot be used. For more information on organic food labels, click here. To read about the challenges small farmers face should they chose to become certified organic, click here.

In the study it was found that organic produce has a 30 percent lower risk of containing detectable pesticide levels. The Environmental Working Group has compiled a list of the twelve foods containing the highest levels of pesticides, calling them the Dirty Dozen (with apples, celery, and bell peppers at the head of list). The Clean 15 on the other hand are the foods lowest in pesticides, with onions, sweet corn, and pineapple as the top three least contaminated. Here is their methodology.

What this study did not focus on, was the nutritional, environmental and community value of locally grown produce. Eating local produce offers various health benefits for our bodies, and our planet. According to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, the top five reasons to eat locally are:

  1. taste
  2. environmental concern
  3. community
  4. variety
  5. health

Our food now travels an average of 1,500 miles before ending up on our plates.

At Butter Beans, we have created close relationships with local food purveyors, purchasing as much of our produce as possible from nearby farmers to provide the freshest and most nutritious food to our students. A list of our suppliers can be found here.

Despite the emphatic reactions to this food study, it’s a step in the right direction for the quality and safety of the food we eat daily. This sort of dialogue shows that our communities are taking more interest in different methods of food production, which trickles down to how we feed our families. It is of utmost importance that we nourish ourselves everyday with fresh fruits and vegetables.

First Lady, Michelle Obama sums it up pretty well: “We can make a commitment to promote vegetables and fruits and whole grains on every part of every menu. We can make portion sizes smaller and emphasize quality over quantity. And we can help create a culture — imagine this — where our kids ask for healthy options instead of resisting them.”

Photo courtesy of ePsos.de

Are you an environmentalist?

20 Apr

Staying up until 3am, as a parent (when sleeping in is not an option), feels completely out of line. However, preparing for The Green Schools Alliance resource fair, thinking about how to engage our communities in sustainable ways, found me up until such a wee hour. I felt a sense of solidarity when the first speaker John Shea, CEO, NYC DOE Division of School Facilities (DSF) began his speech by admitting he’d also been up until 3am thinking about how to engage the attendees in a way that would better inspire and prepare them for the work we all do in our smaller communities in the name of environmentalism.

Of course in our smaller circles, we don’t all call ourselves environmentalists. Though I’m not sure why not. If an environmentalist is someone who loves their homeland, this great land we call Earth, that loves to breathe fresh air and drink clean fresh water, then shouldn’t we all be proud to be environmentalists? If we simply call ourselves people who love life, are we conveying this message?

It makes me think of the word organic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across people, who in bright defiant spirit have said something about not wanting to eat organic, because it is healthy and expensive. There is a connotation that organic is some fancy new thing, and people like good old traditional food, not fancy new food. And yet, it is the good old food that never needed a name fancier than food, that has been hijacked and altered by the overuse of pesticides and herbicides due to unsustainable farming practices.

I had this conversation with a group of 4th graders not too long ago – about organic food. They were all against it.. but when I asked them what organic meant, they didn’t know. I began to describe the life of a farmer. I presented the difficult decisions that farmers and gardeners face when the food they are working so hard to grow gets eaten by animals or insects and pests. There are practices that require alternating fields, covering grounds, digging stakes and strategically preventing or dealing with pests in a way that doesn’t involve adding toxins that are dangerous. Then, there is the alternative of adding toxins that are dangerous.

It doesn’t take long for kids to catch on.

Sustainability. I salute the organizers of the Green Schools Alliance for taking on the task of organizing all of our children. We can turn the tide. We can lead healthy happy sustainable lives. We are creative beings, and our children, even more so.

Cooking classes continue this week.. look out for yummy recipes soon.

For now, catching up on sleep is first.