Medical center's cafe promotes health with vegetarian menu | Avery Yale Kamila | 04/01/10

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Read More: food, hospital, seventh day adventist, vegetarian

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To say hospital food has a bad reputation would be an understatement. The gravy-covered mystery meat, fake mashed potatoes and green Jell-O tend to rival airplane food in universal scorn.

he irony of health care institutions serving overcooked, highly processed, meat-based meals makes hospital fare an easy target for public health crusaders and stand-up comics.

For me, the unfortunate disconnect that can separate the medical profession from the significant role diet plays in health came into sharp view when I lived in Chapel Hill, N.C., where the university's major teaching hospital was home to a Wendy's franchise. Common sense finally prevailed when the hospital let the chain's lease expire in 2008. (I guess I wasn't the only one wondering if serving up fast food was a not-so-subtle strategy to get more business for the hospital's cardiac ward.)

However, in this bland, greasy wasteland of institutional food, bright spots do exist. Here in Maine, a shining example can be found at Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick.

In the hospital's cafe, which is open to staff and visitors, the menu is 100 percent vegetarian, roughly 70 percent organic and locally sourced whenever possible (with some of the vegetables coming from the hospital's own garden). Products that contain high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or genetically modified ingredients are avoided. If employees get hungry between meals, they can grab free fresh fruit and bottled water from the cafe.

"The idea is, we're the hospital and we should set an example of promoting health," said Chef Oleg Opalnyk, Parkview's head of nutritional services.

The hospital is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist church, and this view fits with the religion's emphasis on health and wellness and the vegetarian diet maintained by some of its members.

The hospital's menu for patients does include some non-vegetarian options -- a nod to the older clientele and their meat-and-potatoes tastebuds -- but it also offers a number of plant-based meals. And the meat options tend to be higher quality than what you'd find in a typical hospital, such as the organic, grass-fed beef Parkview uses to make hamburgers.

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