Health & Medicine

James Beard Foundation recognizes Sacramento hospital’s sustainable food sourcing

‘Good food is good medicine.’ Meet UCD Med Center’s new chef

UC Davis Medical Center’s café has a new executive chef, Santana Diaz, who has started to incorporate the farm-to-fork moment into the hospital's meals for visitors and patients.
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UC Davis Medical Center’s café has a new executive chef, Santana Diaz, who has started to incorporate the farm-to-fork moment into the hospital's meals for visitors and patients.

The culinary standard-bearers at James Beard Foundation have made UC Davis Medical Center the first hospital to earn the organization’s designation as a Smart Catch leader, recognizing the food service team’s rigorous emphasis on sustainability in its seafood procurement.

“It’s unusual for a hospital’s food services program to qualify for such an accomplishment. The focus on local sourcing and sustainability measures while using clean, healthy food ingredients truly makes a difference” said Santana Diaz, executive chef for food and nutrition services at the Sacramento-based health system. “As part of UC Davis Health’s farm-to-fork emphasis, we view supporting clean, sustainable foods as a way to complement good health because it also involves a healthy environment.”

Diaz joined UCD Medical Center in late 2017 when the academic hospital embraced his ambitious plan to bring farm-to-fork cooking to the hospital. Before joining UCD, Diaz had implemented that approach with large food-service operations at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center.

UCD officials noted that over the past year the medical center has doubled the percentage of its local and sustainable purchases, including seafood, produce, meats and dry goods.

The health system also participates in the Cool Food Pledge program, in which food-service businesses track the climate impact of foods they serve, and the Health Care Without Harm effort to reduce the hospital system’s environmental impact. Since his department took the Cool Food Pledge, Diaz said, the food and nutrition services staff have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 7 percent with changes in food procurement practices.

Through the Smart Catch program, the Beard Foundation encourages and educates chefs and restaurateurs to look for and sell only seafood that is fished or farmed in an environmentally responsible manner. The goal is to ensure stable fish stocks for years to come.

The foundation uses the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and the federal Fisheries Stock Sustainability Index to assess the practices of each food-service business. The University of California uses guidelines from both those groups to guide its sustainability practices.

To earn the Smart Catch distinction, Santana and his team:

Earned scores of 80 percent or higher on back-to-back assessments.

Ensured they had two or fewer “red” items in their supply. The color red is for seafood that is “overfished or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.”

Kept the volume of “red” items at 8 percent or lower.

Obtained at least three assessments in the calendar year.

Served no items listed as “endangered” on the Red List of Threatened Species produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“We have one of the largest production kitchens in Sacramento, serving an average 6,500 meals a day to patients, employees and visitors at three locations on our Sacramento campus,” Diaz said. “Sustainable practices at this level, both in terms of institutional purchases and reducing food waste, can make an important difference for a healthier environment.”

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