I recently visited a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a paediatric hospital for children with some of the rarest forms of cancer. At the heart of the hospital is a café, with freshly cooked food, much of it made with ingredients from the hospital’s garden. The meals are subsidised for the patients and their families, because those in charge recognise the value of sitting around the table as a family and good nutrition in the healing process.
At the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) this week, NFU President Minette Batters called on the government for greater public procurement of UK produce for its hospitals, schools and military service. The NHS has its budgetary constraints, as do they all, however not only patients, but long-term hospital visitors (and hardworking staff) would undoubtedly gain from a subsidised hot, nutritious meal to help heal and restore drained bodies and minds.
Nutrition expert, Professor Alice Stanton, highlighted in her presentation, at the same conference, the value of feeding young minds and the impact of high nutrient intake on academic performance. For more than six years, North Ayrshire Council has been sourcing local and seasonal food including meat, milk and vegetables for 50 of its schools. The Soil Association ‘Food for Life Served Here’ gold award winner provides 6,730 freshly prepared, sustainable meals a year within its tight budget restraints.
Denise Bentley has been consulting on the National Food Strategy, commissioned by Defra and led by Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain and of the Sustainable Restaurant Association. She is heavily involved in the Tower Hamlets Foodbank.
The strategy, on which an interim report will be published in the Spring, is looking at how the UK can build a robust food system that provides good affordable food to everyone, that makes us well and not obese or sick – while also restoring the environment, maintaining the countryside and promoting rural and urban economies.
Denise highlighted the impact scarce or highly processed food has on the people she works with and the high propensity to cancer, diabetes and mental health issues for those in food poverty who lack access to good nutrition. Alongside financial benefit could the government be offering health and wellbeing benefit with fresh food?
There is no such thing as bad whole foods, said Minette. Meat and vegetables are as natural and nutritious as they come, and here in Scotland, and throughout the UK, we are producing some of the highest standard of these as well as dairy products, eggs and grains. Greater public procurement for schools, hospitals, military and food banks would have a significant dual benefit, building a stronger, healthier, brighter nation through good food while supporting UK food producers.