Today at the White House Conference on Hunger, Health, and Nutrition, NYC Health + Hospitals unveiled plans to make healthier, plant-based meals the default for all hospitals in New York City. For years, medical associations like the American Institutes of Cancer have recommended whole food, plant-based diets because they significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, but our healthcare system has been slow to adopt these recommendations as best practices. Today’s announcement puts NYC Health + Hospitals at the forefront of a growing trend in healthcare to acknowledge the central role that food and nutrition plays in the lifestyle-related diseases that plague tens of thousands of New Yorkers.
A team from Greener by Default, an initiative of the Better Food Foundation, worked closely with hospital administrators to facilitate the transition. Greener by Default flips the script by centering plant-based foods by default while giving diners the choice to opt into meat centered options. This strategy aligns with the global health community’s dietary recommendations and allows institutions to spotlight healthier food choices, meet institutional carbon reduction goals, and offer more culturally inclusive meals.
“Ninety-five percent of patients in the pilot program responded positively to NYC Health + Hospitals’ incredible new menus that reflect New York’s rich cultural diversity,” said Katie Cantrell, Co-Director of Greener by Default. “These menus are a welcome shift from typical hospital foods that Americans famously dread. Meals like sancocho, a zesty burrito bowl with jicama slaw, and Southern black-eyed peas with plant-based cornbread aren’t just healthier, they’re tastier too.”
Our food system accounts for one-third of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown that adopting plant-forward diets is necessary to meet the Paris Climate Agreement, as the carbon footprint of plant-based meals is on average half that of animal-based meals. NYC Health + Hospitals serves approximately 4 million meals annually, so offering the default veg menu for lunch and dinner is expected to transition 600,000-800,000 meals from meat to plant-based each year.
With nearly 70% of Americans trying to eat more plant-based protein, plant-based defaults are a simple way to meet this growing demand. These menus are more inclusive of diverse diets practiced by Americans for cultural, health, or ethical reasons: 30-50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, many religions encourage vegetarianism or restrict consumption of certain animal products, and a growing number of people are embracing “flexitarianism.”
Greener by Default
Greener by Default, an initiative of the Better Food Foundation, applies behavioral economics research to food policy, empowering institutions to serve inclusive, sustainable plant-forward food. Visit www.GreenerByDefault.com for free downloadable resources and to schedule a free consultation for your hospital, university, corporation, or anywhere else that meals are served.