Health care Equity

Food is medicine is becoming a commonly heard sentiment in health care, bringing a focus to the power of access to healthy, sustainable food systems to address so many health outcomes.

This belief rings true throughout ZSFG’s Food and Nutrition Services team. Responsible not only for patient care through dietetic and nutrition counseling, FNS uses food to nourish and heal patients during their stay. But before a healthy, well-balanced meal finds its way onto a tray, the food procurement team is busy at work.  

William Lam, the Dietary Supervisor, begins this journey of providing healthy food to patients, visitors, and staff at the source. A strong advocate for purchasing with intention, William has worked alongside Chef Michael Jenkins to ensure ZSFG adheres to, and oftentimes surpasses, the standards set by Good Food Purchasing Program, a group working to create a transparent and equitable food system built on five core values: local economies, health, valued workforce, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability. 

As an institution, it doesn’t make sense to be in health care if we aren’t buying our food with the best intentions for our patients and the planet. William Lam

William and his team are working to not only provide patients and visitors with healthy meals but to also educate them on the importance of well-sourced foods. For example, nearly 90% of proteins are now antibiotic-free, which is better for the planet and better for our health in the long run.  

Education is a big piece of food as medicine for ZSFG. The in-patient and out-patient nutrition and dietitian teams at ZSFG make the important connection between what’s on a patient’s plate and how food can help heal.

Vivian Wong, an inpatient clinical dietitian, works with patients both while they are staying at ZSFG, and also in clinics around the community as a part of her community nutrition work. As a member of the Chinese-speaking team of nutritionists, she enjoys tailoring her education and resources to the diverse patient population served by the hospital. Through programs like Food Pharmacy, cooking demos, and sharing cookbooks for her Chinese patients, Vivian is able to achieve something vital to long-term nutrition – making food your friend. 

Many of my patients say they wish they knew how to cook vegetables. And I love to be able to show them easy ways to sauté, roast, microwave, or even snack vegetables to help them stay healthy. Vivian Wong, RD

For Holly Taylor, an inpatient registered dietitian at ZSFG, education can only begin once a patient’s risk for food insecurity is established. The Hospital has begun screening many patients for nutrition risk and ensuring those lacking food access are connected to a program in the community.  

Vivian and Holly work closely with patients to create a sustainable nutrition plan. This often means understanding a patient’s home life, especially for marginally housed patients. But access to refrigeration or cooking appliances is not essential to maintaining healthy eating habits. Plans are adapted to ensure adherence, and support is offered at each checkup to ensure access to food programs is renewed and patients feel supported in their continued health journey. 

Holly shared “I always tell my patients that small changes form long-term habits that lead to big life changes.”