Written by Kendra Klein for The Nation
At dawn, at the loading dock behind the kitchen at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital of Ann Arbor, Michigan, small lift loaders and handcarts trundle boxes from food trucks to storage rooms. The perishables go straight to immense walk-in refrigerators packed with processed produce—buckets of cubed melons, bags of pre-washed lettuce, packages of onions diced by the quarter-, half-, and three-quarter inch.
That St. Joe’s executive chef can peel open a three-pound bag of diced onions and dump it into the steel cauldron he calls a soup pot is an efficiency triumph of no small consequence. Preparing the soup du jour from whole ingredients—all sixty-five gallons of it—would take hours of chopping.
When you’re making soup for 600, changing your grocery list can quickly get complicated. Hospitals like St. Joe’s are emerging as the next frontier of the local food movement, but they are struggling to navigate the tensions between their new food goals and their reliance on standardized, low-cost products delivered dependably day in and day out. The question is, Can the local food movement scale up to meet institutional demand without losing sight of its original values?