The Problem with Institutional Food
It is no secret that the tray of food served in public institutions (hospitals, schools, etc.) is pretty bad. More of an irritating necessity, these meals generally contain quite highly processed food, offering very little in the way of flavour, texture or nourishment. In many cases, it’s actually quite expensive, and not good value for money either.
The folks served in community kitchens, hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, and prisons are arguably some of the most vulnerable members of our community, yet we feed them "nutritionally adequate" food with no sense of place, and offering no real contribution to their nourishment or wellness. This disconnect is pretty loud and clear. What is not as obvious is why this is the case. Why IS this food so bad? How has it been allowed to get this way, and what is required to make things better? These are the questions that have guided my work in rebuilding institutional food systems.
What I've Done
I have worked with three awesome institutions: two hospitals and one university here in Toronto to rethink and rebuild the way they purchase, prepare and serve food. I’ve worked with some incredible teams, and have learned a tremendous amount about how to make change that is lasting and impactful beyond the walls of the institution. And I've got some compelling evidence for why chefs are the right people to lead the way.
My projects have received considerable media attention both here in Canada and around the world. As I travel around and speak to different communities about this, I’ve discovered a real hunger for a resource that chronicles a changemaking process while also offering a thoughtful blueprint for action. This book will be the first of its kind in the world, and I hope that it will be the spark that ignites the reconnection of food with health, wellness, education, and rehabilitation.
After 7 years, what I know for sure is that there is no real, good reason why institutional food is such a dismissed afterthought. The only reason this persists is because the people in power don’t value food enough to do it properly. They don't understand the very essential role that food plays in nurturing people and communities. The good news is that this is our system, these are our institutions. I believe we have the both the power and responsibility to change things that are no longer serving all of us well.
Writing the Book
Delightfully, I have a publisher who also agrees that the world needs a book like this, and I have just signed a contract with the good folks at ECW Press! Now, I’m learning that I cannot simultaneously hustle to pay the bills and dive into a creative project like this, and so I need to find some income to to allow me to do this properly. I have received a small advance from my publisher, but it's not nearly enough to keep me going. So I turned my attention towards writing grants at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Sadly, I've discovered that these arts/writing grants do not support the kind of non-ficiton writing that I am doing. Right. This is a frustrating, yet strangely familiar place for me to be. My work and life seem to be all about taking risks and figuring out how to make things work. So here I am, trying my luck at crowdfunding.
I’ve got an inspired, timely idea for a book, a waiting audience, and a signed deal from a publisher. All I need now is the chance to stop and actually write.
This book will be a catalyst through which incredible change, innovation, and reconnection can start to happen in institutions around the world. Our public institutions are, in some way, a reflection of who we are as a society. Please help me rewrite this story to improve outcomes for all of the hands involved in moving and receiving food from field to kitchen to table in institutions. A better food future is out there for us friends, I've seen it in action! But it's going to take a little investment from all of us to make it happen.
Thanks so much for reading!
Risks and challenges
There are two vulnerabilities with this project. First, my experience has taught me that having a dedicated champion onsite is key to the success of any changemaking project like this. My job was to celebrate all victories, keep the project on tract and be perpetually excited and supportive of the people and the process. I can't hit all of the institutions around the world, but a book written by me with all of the lessons, wisdom and advice could certainly be useful.
The second, and perhaps largest vulnerability that this project faces is not getting enough funding to allow me to pause my hustle for income and actually write this book. It’s really as simple as that.
I have estimated that it will take me about 8 months of dedicated work to write this book. With a March 2019 manuscript submission deadline, that puts me at a start of July 2018. There is little to no wiggle room there, and insufficient funding could result in a delay in submission of my manuscript. Other than this, no other threat to production exists.
I have all of the required time to write available to me. The content of this book is my own experience and reflection, with notes that I’ve been carefully collecting and synthesizing for the past 7 years. Notes are organized, and a very detailed book skeleton sits waiting for me to start filling in the spaces with narrative.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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