If you think the whole organic food movement is a lot of hooey, I have news for you. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Goodyear doesn't. In fact, this progressive facility so believes in the healing power of fresh, pesticide-free, nutrient-rich food that it's enlisted local organic farmer Bob McClendon of McClendon's Select to grow organic vegetables for its cancer patients and staff members.
The treatment center, which sits smack in the middle of 200 acres of former farmland, is leasing 25 acres to McClendon, who will grow organic vegetables the hospital is free to harvest for its needs. Lettuces, carrots, beets, onions, squash, tomatoes, broccoli and many other vitamin- and antioxidant-rich foods will be picked in the morning and served (both in patient rooms and the hospital cafeteria) the same day. McClendon says it's the only cancer facility in the nation taking a good-food-is-good-medicine approach.
At the moment, about 70% of the center's produce is local and organic. With McClendon on board, they'll be hitting very close to 100%.
Clearly, McClendon has been learning a lot about the disease, pointing out that pesticides are a major cause of cancer and that up to 40% of patients die of malnutrition first, not the cancer that has invaded their bodies.
Knowing that cancer and its aggressive treatment affects the appetite, CTCA offers a juice bar where smoothies are custom-made for each patient. Apparently, people's palates change when they go through chemotherapy, and when food doesn't taste good, patients lose interest in eating. But the smoothie-makers at the hospital are patient-patient, tweaking recipes for each very particular palate until they create something that tastes yummy enough for their "customers" to want to drink it. Now, with McClendon's produce available, smoothie combos will be even more wide-ranging. Additionally, the CTCA will devote a portion of the 25 acres to a patient garden, where patients are encouraged to grow their own veggies. The gardening is not only therapeutic but also a skill patients can put into practice when they get back home. The treatment center is all about empowerment.
So much so that CTCA is also planning an educational learning center, where cooking demos, nutrition classes and other food and garden-related lectures will take place. And it won't be just for cancer patients, but for the public as well, so that everyone learns the health benefits of eating fresh, organic food and leaves the center with easy ways to cook it.
Meanwhile, executive chef Frank Caputo -- a CIA grad who grew up on a farm in Italy -- leads the culinary team that develops healthful, appealing meals at a super-reasonable cost ($3-$5) to patients, visiting family members and staff.
As McClendon explains it on his blog , the treatment center, which first approached him last fall, believes that "the patient's diet is just as much a part of their treatment program as anything else they receive." In an excerpt from that post he says:
Dieticians don't just prescribe diets; they look at the full life-style, patient eating habits and preferences, cooking skills and nutritional education. As with everything at the CTCA, education is paramount so that the patients have all of the information they need to understand and help in their treatment and make choices that will assist in their progress. The emphasis on eating seasonal, local, organic produce is at the heart of their nutrition education. They are focused on helping patients incorporate as many fruits and vegetables as possible into their diets. This isn't just a mantra that they preach; they put it into practice with every meal served at the hospital.
Having witnessed for myself the sad, processed, unappetizing meals that were being served at another hospital just the day before, it hit home all too well that the philosophy of the CTCA toward their patients was revolutionary in the medical community. Doctors and clinicians aren't telling a patient one thing while turning a blind eye to what the kitchen is sending up to patient rooms. At the Cancer Treatment Center of America, it is evident that everyone is invested and focused on patient care, including their chef and kitchen staff.
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And now their farmer.