Talkin’ Local Food with University Health Network

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Author: Jenn Kucharczyk

Posted: July 15, 2014

Categories: GoodFoodBites / News from Sustain Members

The University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto is looking to the wisdom of the crowd for ideas on how to better connect local Ontario food to their hospitals. The Department of Energy & Environment, a member of Sustain Ontario, has partnered with Nutrition Services to launch a new idea crowdsourcing project, “Talkin’ Local Food with UHN,” to enable a wide conversation among the UHN community – patients, staff, visitors, and the broader public – about refreshing the hospitals’ food services and culture with a local and sustainable focus.

Three challenges have been posted on the platform to guide the conversation. These questions are designed to tap into the experience of patients, staff and creative thinkers to hear their ideas that may otherwise stop at a lunch hour chat. From a UHN blog post:

  1. “What are your soothing foods when sick or injured?  One of the challenges of serving food in Toronto hospital is the extreme diversity of food preferences and needs. Share your stories about your soothing food. Read more
  2. “How might we change the way staff think of food in patient care?  This is a biggie. We want to hear what it would take to raise the profile of hospital food, develop a food culture and help food be seen as part of recovery. Read more
  3. “How might we use local food to generate revenue? Even though we acknowledge that local food brings opportunities for cost savings (waste reduction for example) we also recognize that we will need investments to make this viable in the long term. Let’s use our collective creativity to identify ways to generate money with local food. Read more.”

At the time of writing, 32 ideas have been shared on the platform, which launched last week and will be open until September, 2014. Ideas can go through multiple phases, including open discussion and voting, so participants will be able to build on each others’ bright ideas.

“Crowdsourcing is an innovative method of involving those who care about change. It allows to collect a high volume of ideas in a short period of time, build momentum and staff support for systemic change to happen,” says Adeline Cohen, coordinator of the project, describing the benefits of a collective web-based discussion. She also highlights the usefulness of social media (tweet @UHNTalkinTrash!) to complement this idea generation and extend the reach for feedback. With over 14,000 employees at UHN, the team is optimistic about the wealth of creative thinking that can come from the variety of experiences and perspectives that even this one segment could offer.

The Energy & Environment’s core “Talkin’ Trash with UHN” team is comprised of 7 staff dedicated to making the hospitals more sustainable in the long term. It’s a rarity to see teams officially dedicated to these issues in Canadian hospitals, where the responsibility often falls on an individual. By using a public platform to build this discussion, there is potential for greater knowledge exchange around these issues as a model for other hospitals pursuing similar plans in Ontario and beyond.

Visit to share your idea!


From the “Talkin’ Local Food with UHN” site:

Here’s 3 challenges we’ve put together for you
Hospitals hold an extreme diversity of food preferences and needs. Share part of your cultural background and tell us which food you find soothing when sick or injured.
Participate in the challenge
Hospital food has been placed on the back burner. We see an opportunity to use local Ontario food to change the way hospital staff think about food in patient care. What do you think?
Participate in the challenge
Providing more local food to hospital patients has to be financially viable in the long term. How might we generate revenue, without taking money from care and research?
Participate in the challenge


Help spread the word!

Do you work at UHN? We have posters you can post in your staff room, and a 10-min in-service presentation we can show to your team. Invite us.

Not a staff? We hope you can spread the word too. Follow our blog, tweet with us, write about the project and contact us to collaborate.