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“The hospital that does the plant stuff”: Siskin Hospital’s sustainability initiatives

April 28, 2021

Like the wider community, our Siskin Hospital family has experienced some tremendous changes in the last year.

While dealing with the day-to-day concerns posed by COVID-19, we’ve also been upgrading and expanding our Dining Room features, driven primarily by our new CEO’s commitment to a healthy workforce and a healthy environment.

“We’re hearing so much talk about plant-based diet and environmental sustainability these days,” says Faye Marthaler, Sodexo’s general manager of food and nutritional services at Siskin Hospital. “Sodexo has picked up on that, and we’re using Plant Forward to provide menu options that fit this evolving culture.”

The Plant Forward program is one of the most significant culinary trends in U.S. global foodservice. It’s altering the way chefs think about menu structure, culinary technique, creative concepts, food cost patterns, staff training priorities, and the future of consumer preference and values. It celebrates, but is not limited to, high-fiber, nutrient-dense fresh whole fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. And for many consumers, it’s a new way of eating and thinking about food.

“Our associates have experienced foods they may have never had the opportunity to experience,” says Faye. “For example, we prepared Dal Tarka, a dish made of red and yellow lentils simmered with turmeric, onion, ginger, jalapeño and exotic Indian spices, and provided samples to dining room clients and visitors. People were hesitant when they learned it was lentils, but when they tried it, they really liked it and wanted to know when we were having it again. It’s become a staple item on the menu, very popular.”

As with anything new, exposure is key. Faye hopes that nutrition education and sampling will encourage people to try healthier options. To that end, we’ve produced our first cooking demonstration video featuring Chef Maxwell preparing Red Pepper Hummus. It’s an attempt to show that healthy fast food doesn’t have to be necessarily more time consuming or expensive.

We’re also changing up the delivery method of our food offerings. Rather than using the ubiquitous Styrofoam, which is non-biodegradable and made from non-renewable petroleum products, we’ve gone to compostable Earthchoice containers made from rice. We’re also using compostable cutlery in the dining room and will be expanding this for all patient meals as well. The recycling initiative expanded Faye’s network as she searched for a nearby composting facility that accepted compostable containers.

“Doing all this put me in touch with the sustainable/compostable community,” she says. “It’s been a problem for us to dispose of used containers properly as the nearest composting facility was in another city. But I’ve just received an email – now Chattanooga is composting. So we’re starting small in the kitchen, saving our food scraps, and composting. And educating associates to place compostable containers in a special recycling bin destined for the composting facility!”

With more than 30 years in the food service industry, Faye, a child of Greek immigrants, knows food. Her team, comprised of Chef Maxwell, Retail Manager Greg Stokes, two dietitians, and 25 food service associates, prepares about 560 meals each day for both the Siskin Hospital dining room and patients. Focusing on sustainability and plant-based nutrition has been a learning experience for the team.

“We had to change what we’re buying, make changes to our grocery lists,” says Faye. “Right before COVID-19, a tornado hit our supply house in Nashville. We’ve had to get groceries from other suppliers which previously did not supply healthcare facilities and had to quickly make adjustments to service us. The result is that we’re becoming high profile in my Sodexo network. We’re known as the hospital that does the plant stuff.”

As the first Chattanooga hospital to compost, Siskin Hospital has made a significant investment in our community’s environment and health.

“We’re excited to be a part of this,” says Faye.