Let's get healthy food into hospitals

Sorry I have not posted in a week - I was traveling a lot and it was difficult to get online.  A shame since this amazing email has been sitting in my inbox.  I asked Gail to write a piece for Citizen Hunter (which I'm cross-posting on Earth to Philly tonight) since I recently read her funny, uplifting and super-smart book Cancer is a Bitch!

As I am sure you noticed I have written about the topic more than usual lately as a close family member is in the throes of this terrible disease.  Gail and her book is just what the doctor ordered.  I figured she'd write me a summary of her book to post but she didn't.  So check out what she wrote, because she is frustrated and wants to get moving with her plan to implement change!


So read on and then go get her book Cancer is a Bitch: (Or I'd rather be Having a Midlife Crisis)  - it rocks!

I was a competitive runner, a yoga practitioner, an organic mostly-vegetarian eater, an arm-chair nutritionist, a person others consulted for health and anti-aging tips, a person with no aches, no pains, who rarely caught a cold... when I was diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer in my mid-forties. This made no sense to me. I literally could not believe it. I was positive there had been some kind of big mistake.

This was not the me I knew. This was not the healthy persona I wore and preached and flaunted proudly.

After the reality sunk in and when I was recovering from surgery, I started Googling carcinogens obsessively and learned that even though I thought I was living a consciously healthy and clean lifestyle, carcinogens are everywhere, impossible to avoid unless you live off the land in the middle of nowhere. I even suggested that to my husband until he reminded me I wasn’t really a country person and was a terrible gardener. After reading a very small Canadian study about parabens found in breast tumors and learned that they were in most cosmetics and hair products, I realized I’d been rubbing parabens into my skin and scalp for years in the name of anti-aging. Ha! I threw out all those products and started making my own homemade organic lotions.

When I asked my physician about parabens, she said she’d never heard of them.

That was puzzling, but even more puzzling to me was ( and still is) why it is so difficult to avoid carcinogens when you step out into the world. If you don’t bring your own food and water bottles to the airport, it’s like a day in a toxic minefield. Plastic water bottles leeching BPA, trans fats wafting from every food kiosk and rows and rows of plastic bags of chips everywhere, and the “healthy natural” food choices all pesticide-laden produce and hormone-induced dairy products. Since educating myself on carcinogens, I have learned to carry my own bags of nuts and fresh fruit when traveling. Some people (including my husband) think that’s a bit extreme but when I don’t I often regret it.

Like the first time I went for my 6-month mammogram check-up after my surgery at a very large and prestigious clinic I won’t mention by name.

I was in the cafeteria waiting for my afternoon appointment with my physician. It was lunchtime. I was hungry. I’d forgotten my fruit and nut food supply. I walked to every station looking for something organic, or hormone-free, but was confronted with the same poor choices as the ones in the airport. I picked up a bag of wheat pretzels thinking that might be my best choice. I flipped the bag over to read the ingredients. Not only were they not whole wheat but, they contained hydrogenated oils (code name for trans fat). Not even a glass water bottle choice in sight.

I stood there trying to figure out what I could eat and I literally could not decide on anything. I was shocked. I mean, I knew about the poor food choices at other hospitals and while that had always disturbed me this was a not-to-be-mentioned very famous hospital. How could that be?

I reached into my bag and groped around and luckily I dug out an organic green tea bag from the bottom and found an old bag of organic almonds from my last out of town trip and that’s what I munched on while I thought about the hypocrisy of the disconnect between an institution providing health care and the utter lack of healthy foods it served. Foods that are known carcinogens and others known to be dangerous for heart patients and diabetics and those recovering from or hoping to avoid any sort of illness.

Since then, almost three years ago, I have asked numerous physicians and other health professionals about this disconnect and I always receive the same answer that people will not buy the “healthy” food.

One administrator told me when they make a “healthy vegetarian” option for lunch, most of it gets thrown out. But my thought is, doesn’t the hospital have a moral obligation to only offer food they know will not harm the very people they are treating? Shouldn’t all the choices be healthy? Why further compromise the health of people whose health is already compromised? Why endanger those who are making a conscious effort to stay healthy?

My plan is to create a nationwide campaign to rid our hospitals and clinics of unhealthy food choices. If the citizens who receive their health care at these institutions questioned the ethics of offering food known to be unhealthful and refused to purchase it, the institutions would have no choice but to offer food that further enhances the health of their patients. Anyone with me, here?