A hospital cafeteria may be an unlikely place to get a good meal — but Union Hospital does not disappoint.
There is much to like about what’s happening in the culinary arts at the county’s health care facility. And according to Holly Emmons, the hospital’s food service manager, it began with a conversation with a disgruntled patient.
“The CEO of the hospital sent word to have me come and speak to a patient about his concerns,” Emmons said. “He was a farmer on a cardiac diet. He said the greenhouse tomatoes were horrible and that he wanted fresh sausage.”
Emmons left that meeting and rushed to the farmers market, where she procured fresh tomatoes and prepared the man a healthy meal. Sometime after his discharge, satisfied with the care he had received, he returned to the hospital with cantaloupes he had grown at his farm.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t we buy food like this?’ Yes, it’s more work, but we have a dedicated production staff,” she said.
Since that time, Emmons, who has been in food service her “whole life,” has set a strategic goal of reducing the amount of processed food being served in the hospital. Adhering to an organic and sustainable food philosophy, she and the staff practice environmental nutrition, which she describes as returning to the way it was before industrial agriculture.
“It is sad,” Emmons said. “Our food system is so out of whack. As a health care institution, we should be a forerunner of healthy, institutional foods.”
In keeping with a whole-foods ideology, she purchases local, organic vegetables from Priapi Gardens in Cecilton and Filasky’s Produce in Middleton, Del. Pasture-grazed beef and pork are obtained from Shane Hughes at Liberty Delight Farms in Reisterstown; Kelly McGill from KCC Natural Farms in Forest Hill provides the free-range chicken.
Having a relationship with the farmers allows for conversation regarding seasonal fare, and requests for specific cuts of meat for dishes like fajitas and sweet and sour chicken. It also provides variety and opportunities to try less common vegetables such as kohlrabi and bok choy.
“We are very happy to be providing food to the local hospital for staff, patients and the public,” said Vic Priapi, an organic farmer who harvests and delivers to Union Hospital on the same day.
Noelyn I. De Roxas — the hospital’s culinary supervisor perhaps better known as Chef Ning — explained that they extend the harvest by processing their own foods. During tomato season, they prepare homemade marinara sauce. When corn is at its peak, it is husked, cut and frozen for later use. Emmons added that last season they were purchasing 400 to 500 ears of corn a week. The corn chowder prepared in March was made with last fall’s kernels.
While talking to a reporter, Chef Ning said that we are running after quality and our taste is awesome. Our hospital has a cook-from-scratch kitchen and our meatballs are from scratch. In our mashed potatoes, we are using real potatoes.
The same food is available for the staff and comunity, what the hospital is serving to the patients. The food is available at Union Express coffee shop for sale as well.
The dietician supervisor of the hospital, Brenda M. O’Connor told that our food is availble for everyone across the board. He further said that “Our community is eating healthy food without knowing it.”
When I got a visit in the morning, they offered with me an omelet made with cage-free eggs, feta cheese, broccoli, ham, feta cheese, mushrooms, onions, and garnished with red bell pepper and asparagus. The students of Cecil College went to eat in the cafeteria as they like to eat burgers and pizza. Some employees of local institues and banks also come to eat this healthy food.
Whenever Emmons place an order of meat or vegetables, she order extra to sell to consumers. According to Emmons, nutrition goes beyond the patients to the staff and visitors. She doesn’t only want to provide better food, but she also want to encourage people to buy food that is grown under healthy circumstances.
Emmons said that we have become an anchor of our community as we have come too far in our program after the visit of that particular unhappy patient. She further said, “The farmer has opened up our eyes.”
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