Cool Food participants serve up solutions, chopping dishes’ GHG emissions
“We decided not to feed the [climate] crisis anymore” — New York Mayor Eric Adams
“We decided not to feed the [climate] crisis anymore,” declared New York Mayor Eric Adams to an applauding audience. The analogy of feeding climate change hit home with the crowd, as they had all committed to the Cool Food Pledge, a cross-sector, international initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production.
Cool Food is an initiative of the World Resources Institute in partnership with Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth. Sixty-five hospitals in the Practice Greenhealth network are working concurrently with other large food providers toward the Cool Food goal of cutting greenhouse gases from food purchasing by 25% by 2030.
The mayor’s remarks were made at the Cool Food Pledge annual celebration held during New York City’s climate week. The event featured Timothy Gee, executive chef at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) on a panel with representatives from other Cool Food signatories such as Ikea, Aramark, and New York University.
“It’s not enough to just check the box on plant-based. Our focus is to make plant-based dishes taste good, look good, and be just as appealing as meat dishes.” — Chef Timothy Gee, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Chef Gee shared his philosophy around plant-forward menus: “It’s not enough to just check the box on plant-based. Our focus is to make plant-based dishes taste good, look good, and be just as appealing as meat dishes.”
Gee also shared some of the successful plant-based swaps they have made on traditional dishes such as an “MLT” mushroom on rustic bread, a “crab” cake made with hearts of palm, a butternut squash mac and cheese, and a lentil loaf.
The chef left the audience with words of encouragement. “You’re going to fail sometimes, and that’s okay,” Gee shared. “Listen to your customers, and keep adapting until you get the recipe right.”
Gee’s work has paid off. The latest data shows that by applying a plant-forward philosophy to menu development, MSK has reduced their total greenhouse gas emissions from food purchasing by 22.16% and their per-plate emissions by 15.47% over four years (2018–21). This puts the hospital in a position to achieve and even exceed the Cool Food goal before the 2030 deadline and establishes MSK as a leader in climate-friendly food service.
The Cool Food Pledge health care cohort has reduced their per-plate emissions by 13.06% as a whole, and 97% of individual health care facilities enrolled have shown emission decreases.
The news is also good for the entire health care cohort enrolled in Cool Food. After four years the cohort has reduced their per-plate emissions by 13.06% as a whole, and 97% of individual health care facilities enrolled have shown emission decreases. Purchasing data shows this success was driven by a marked decrease in animal-based foods and an increase in plant-based foods.
“I am really pleased with health care’s progress and dedication to Cool Food,” said John Stoddard, Health Care Without Harm’s associate director of climate and food strategy. “Despite the fact that the majority of the Cool Food program has unfolded during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have persevered in their efforts to reduce their climate impact from food purchasing. I think it speaks to the value of the program and the commitment of the hospitals in our network.”
Globally, our food system is responsible for 25–30% of the emissions causing climate change, and experts assert that we cannot meet global climate targets set under the Paris Agreement without addressing food production. Similarly, hospitals must address food purchases to achieve net-zero goals. Hospitals enrolled in Cool Food are addressing their Scope 3 emissions by including their food service departments in their efforts to reduce their climate impact.
The latest hospital to join Cool Food is Stanford Medical Center located in Palo Alto, Calif. Stanford was the 2020 winner of Health Care Without Harm’s Health Care Culinary Contest with a recipe for their delicious adobo de la tierra by Chef Noriel San Pedro. The dish was a take on a traditional Filipino dish San Pedro’s mother prepared for him as a kid. It was composed of a house-made, plant-based protein made from tofu, chickpeas, and kidney beans which was covered by an earthy adobo sauce and finished with a sweet and spicy green papaya atchara.
Last year’s culinary contest winner was Cool Food participant University of Wisconsin Health with their Afghan-style vegetable korma submitted by Chefs Shekeba Samadzada and Dan Hess.
The link between Cool Food members and winners of the culinary contest is no coincidence. Those who are excelling in creating delicious, plant-forward dishes also excel in their efforts to reduce emissions from food purchasing.
For hospitals with advanced plant-forward programs, Cool Food is a way to quantify the great work you are doing. For those just starting, Plant-Forward Future and Cool Food can help you craft a program that will be a success from a business standpoint and a climate one.
At a time when change can sometimes feel impossible, this group of people is making progress on a global problem, one dish at a time. Your hospital or health system can do this too. Join your health care colleagues in the plant-forward future by enrolling in Cool Food today.
The 2022 culinary contest is live until Nov. 30. Submit a recipe for your chance to win a prize valued at over $4,000 and gain national recognition as America’s top hospital chef.