As of December 6, all New York hospitals must guarantee a vegan option at every mealtime.
The bill — S1471A/A4072 — “passed overwhelmingly” in the Senate and the Assembly in June 2019. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law five months later on December 6.
According to the bill, all plant-based meals must be nutritionally equivalent to the non-vegan options. All written materials and menus must also reference the vegan options clearly.
“This can be a successful model for health care facilities nationwide,” Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., Director of Nutrition Education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) told LIVEKINDLY. “I think that every healthcare facility should offer healthy plant-based options, and providers should be ready to educate their patients on how nutrition can heal.”
“Offering plant-based options give doctors a teachable moment,” she added. “To discuss why nutrition is a powerful tool to fight disease.”
Levin explained: “Research shows that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans can help us prevent, and in some cases reverse these diseases.”
The Benefits of Plant-Based Food
According to the committee, nearly 1.7 million New Yorkers suffer from diabetes. Additionally, heart disease accounts for 40 percent of deaths in the state.
Including plant-based meals also gives doctors and healthcare providers an opportunity to learn more about nutrition. According to Levin, diet “plays an important role in having an overall healthy life.”
Plant-based meals can be far cheaper, too. According to St. Joseph Health System — which is based in California, where a similar bill passed — the veggie meals cost 50 percent less to produce than the meat options. The hospital projected savings of up to $5,000 per year thanks to the serving of additional meat-free meals.
New York’s Hospitals Embrace Meatless Mondays
This isn’t the first time New York’s hospitals have been pushed to reduce the amount of meat served. In 2018, Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the nation, launched the Plant-Based Lifestyle Program, which works with patients to incorporate more vegan food into their diets as a means of preventative medicine.
In early 2019, the city’s Health + Hospitals division introduced Meatless Mondays for NYC’s 11 public hospitals. According to Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of Health + Hospitals, the scheme is about encouraging healthy choices.
“We want to empower our patients to live their healthiest lives,” he said. “By introducing them to healthier foods that they may choose once they’re discharged.”
The shift towards vegan food is currently being championed by a number of influential figures in New York, including vegan Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who reduced severe symptoms of his type-2 diabetes through a whole-food, plant-based diet.
“Our shared goal is to create a healthier Big Apple,” said Adams. “One where our government institutions support healthful dietary choices. Hospitals have a unique opportunity to influence patients and families in rethinking the nutritional quality of their meals.”
Similar goals have also appeared elsewhere in the U.S. In 2019, The American Medical Association passed its Healthy Food Options in Hospitals resolution, which includes the provision of plant-based meals for all patients, staff, and visitors. The American College of Cardiology made the same recommendation in its recommendations for “heart-healthy” food in hospitals.