Issue: March 2020, Our food – a risk? – Sustainability in nutrition and agriculture
“Many have completely lost sight of the value of food”
Interview with Thomas Voss, Commercial Director of the LWL clinics in Münster and Lengerich
More than 1,700 lunches are prepared and eaten in two clinics in Münster and Lengerich every day. On top of that there are breakfasts, snacks and evening meals. But anyone who thinks of hospital food as insipid and cheap hasn’t encountered the two Clinics for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy run by the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (LWL). These clinics attach great importance to food in terms of both taste and sustainability. Thomas Voss, Commercial Director of the two clinics, has played a key part in the shift towards sustainability – starting back in 1999, when the clinic in Münster became the first specialist psychiatric hospital in Germany to be awarded the EU’s eco-management quality seal EMAS. In an interview with eco@work he talks about the use of organic food, going meat-free and preventing food waste.
Mr Voss, why does hospital food have such a bad reputation?
Because it is often very poor. Many hospitals have been subjected to severe economising, with the result that kitchen managers sometimes have just three euros per person per day to spend on food. In the process, many have completely lost sight of the value of food.
What are the key aspects of sustainable mass catering?
There is a social, an environmental and an economic side. It starts with paying kitchen staff properly and having reasonable working hours. Working in the kitchen puts people under a lot of physical stress and time pressure; we must always bear that in mind. We also want to provide a sensible diet. Our kitchen managers therefore have 5.27 euros per person per day to spend on food – by comparison with other hospitals, that puts us in the top third. With regard to the environment, issues such as green electricity and good mobility management are of course very important. And last but not least: sustainable food and as little food waste as possible.
How do you achieve that in practice?
For a start, by using as much organically produced food as possible. At present about 22 percent of our food is organic. We seek maximum animal welfare wherever feasible. In addition we have lots of vegetarian dishes: every Wednesday all meals are completely meat-free. With regard to food waste we are taking a lot of small steps.
In recent years we have looked in detail at what sorts of waste arise and why. One thing we found is that portions were often too big. So now we put a modest amount on the plate and anyone who is still hungry gets a second helping. That has significantly reduced the amount left on people’s plates. We don’t simply throw away products that have reached their best-before date; we look at them and use them in staff meals if they are still OK. As a result of such measures, our food waste has fallen by about 13 tonnes since 2014. That means that we are saving a lot of money that we can direct into buying high-quality organic food.
That is probably not enough to cover the higher costs.
No, but there are all sorts of adjustments that we can make to reduce costs without compromising on quality. For example, we have stopped buying expensive veal, and we have made meat portions smaller. We also focus on what is currently in season – foods that are not in season are often very expensive.
Where do you get your food from?
As much as possible from the region. For example, all our pork is organic and comes from a producer group in Berkamen. An organic farmer in Harsewinkel supplies us with beef several times a year. We only use eggs from certified organic farms in the Münster area. And our fresh milk products come from a farm dairy in Münster – they’re not organic, but the animals are kept in decent conditions.
What steps are you taking to become even better?
We regularly ask our guests for feedback. That tells us what is going well and what we could do better. Of course there is still a lot to do. For example, I would like to switch to using only organic poultry, but that isn’t readily affordable. In addition, a lot of bread is thrown away on the wards: we want to address that. But I believe that overall we have already reached a very good level.
Thank you for talking to eco@work.
The interviewer was Christiane Weihe.
Environmental Management Representative
Tel.: +49 251 91 555-1300
Thomas Voss has been working for the Landschaftsverband Westfalen Lippe (LWL) since 1979, initially as procurement officer, development planner and deputy administration manager. In 1995 he was appointed head of the department of economics, supply and technology at the LWL clinic in Münster; in 2003 his role was extended to cover the LWL clinic in Lengerich as well. In 2016 Voss became Deputy Commercial Director at the two specialist hospitals for psychiatry and psychotherapy; in October 2019 he became Commercial Director. Since 1999 he has also been Environmental Management Representative at both clinics.
Alongside his work for the LWL, Thomas Voss has been a member of the German EMAS Advisory Board (UGA) at the Federal Environment Ministry since 2016. He is also a member of the German biomentors network BioMentoren Deutschland – a group of managers from the mass catering sector who share their expertise and experience relating to the use of organically produced food.
On account of its environmental management system, the LWL clinic in Münster gained certification under the EU’s Eco-Management and Audit Scheme EMAS in 1999. The LWL clinic in Lengerich became EMAS-certified in 2011. In 2005 the kitchens at both LWL clinics were awarded the EU organic label.
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