2022 health care food trends

From delicious climate solutions to donating food to neighboring nonprofits to prioritizing purchasing from local businesses owned by people of color, going into 2022, health care food service has become a force for healing.

Health Care Without Harm
5 min readFeb 1, 2022
The data from 2020 was impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 48% of hospitals shut down food service areas for periods of time.

As the pandemic continued through 2021, we witnessed the amazing resilience of our network of health care systems and professionals to simultaneously respond to the immediate needs of their communities while innovating and collaborating to create long-term and systemic solutions to address community health and resilience. This was especially evident in hospital food service work.

We are grateful to have supported these mighty efforts this past year, and we look forward to deepening our collaboration and impact in 2022. We will continue to work with our health care network and the community-based and organizational partners that make this work possible to build a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable food system

Here is a reflection on 2021 and a look ahead.

Data provided by Practice Greenhealth hospital partners

Cooking up climate action

The need to focus on climate change was elevated exponentially this past year — climate crises from fires to floods to heat domes have gotten the public’s attention and deepened the health care sector’s commitment to being part of the solution. Food-related emissions represent 33% of global greenhouse gases. During the global conference on climate change, COP26, the Biden-Harris administration joined forces with other countries committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the health care sector.

Within hospital food service, we are focusing on three food strategies for addressing the climate crisis.

Our new Plant-Forward Future resource provides practical guidance while leading facilities are providing inspiration for implementation, and culinary professionals have shown how they can lead.

The United Nations estimates that 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food loss and food waste. State and local governments are setting ambitious targets and regulations to engage institutions in better managing their food life cycles. Health Care Without Harm has been demonstrating successful strategies and looks forward to releasing resources to support the sector.

Data provided by Practice Greenhealth hospital partners

Unleashing the power of procurement

Groundbreaking analysis helped us quantify the true costs of our conventional food system — costs that are externalized for individuals, society, and the environment to bear.

Although the United States spends around $1.1 trillion per year on food, the true cost once these impacts — rising health care costs, climate change, and biodiversity loss — are factored in is much higher: more than $3.2 trillion per year.

Spending more than $130 billion annually on food, institutional food service represents a powerful leverage point for a better food system. Health Care Without Harm is collaborating with other institutional sectors such as schools, universities, and municipalities to create a shared values-based purchasing standard that promises to enable institutional collaboration and inspire supply chain shifts, improve public and environmental health, and strengthen the economic vitality of their communities.

Additionally, we have focused on the opportunity to leverage food purchasing decisions to protect food workers and create markets for small businesses — especially those owned by people of color.

Data provided by Practice Greenhealth hospital partners

Community health and resilience

A deeper understanding has emerged of the connection between the ways that institutions engage with and invest in their communities and the ability for our food systems to support health, create community wealth, and be responsive in crisis. With the change in administration, we have been working with partners and lawmakers to champion a set of policy recommendations for a resilient food system.

Through place-based projects, we are bringing focus to the power of health care and community collaborations. These initiatives include:

  • The new California culinary center that is creating 150 living-wage jobs, purchasing from local, sustainable, and diverse farmers and food businesses, and producing 50,000 healthy meals daily to local institutions
  • Boston hospitals collaborating with CommonWealth Kitchen, an incubator for food entrepreneurs, to expand small business opportunities and build local food system infrastructure
  • A unique collaboration between health care and Agri-Cultura Network, a community agriculture network and aggregator, advocating for retail outlets (dollar stores) to be part of the web to create community health through local food production
Data provided by Practice Greenhealth hospital partners

Looking ahead to 2022

Health care-community partnerships

Located in one of these regions? Join an innovation project.

Across the country, hospitals, community-based organizations, and supply chain partners are collaborating to find implementable solutions to critical food systems issues. They are exploring:

  • How to increase institutional food purchases from food and farm businesses owned by people of color
  • How to partner with communities to leverage their multiple assets (purchasing, community benefits, and investments) to support resilient local food infrastructure and community health, wealth, and resilience
  • How hospitals can be part of the climate solution, reducing greenhouse gas emissions through what they serve and purchase while reducing food loss and waste
  • How to collectively mobilize and evaluate the impact of good food purchasing across institutional food service sectors

We’re excited to support U.S. hospitals in their journeys, share tools and resources, and scale best practices to our network of nearly 2,000 hospitals and health systems.

Virtual cohorts & other learning opportunities

We are increasing opportunities for learning to support implementation, evaluation, and program success. From new cohorts focused on food service sustainability to the Cool Food Pledge to robust food-related learning sessions at CleanMed 2022, the premier national conference for leaders in health care sustainability, we have built spaces for learning from experts and peers.



Health Care Without Harm

Health Care Without Harm seeks to transform health care worldwide so the sector reduces its environmental footprint and becomes a leader in the global movement.