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Feeding the Faithful

April 11, 2011
by Alan Richman
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How providers plan, prepare, and present foodservice based on religious principles
Chef Scott Rouse (right) and Rabbi Binyomin Yudin at Cedar Village, Mason, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Angie Tapogna.


When George Carlberg, executive chef at Colorado's Littleton Adventist Hospital had a kosher-observant patient who couldn't eat the marshmallows being served to other patients-they contained animal-derived gelatin-the diligent Carlberg raced over to a local Whole Foods Market and found a vegetarian substitute. “I bought every package on the shelf,” he recalls. “There were probably about a half dozen.”

Here's how Carlberg sees his mission: “For many patients, mealtime is the happiest time of the day. For some, it is the only bright spot. We should do everything we can to make it as good as possible.”

Today, this requires foodservice directors, dietitians, and chefs to not only present their constituents with nutritious and appealing meals, but food that complies with myriad medical orders, fits ethnic profiles matching the patient/resident populations, and, at hundreds of long-term care (LTC) communities across the nation, conforms to prescribed religious rules and traditions.

Faith-based diets are increasingly in demand as a U.S. population teeming with diversity races toward old age and senior living communities. This year, the first wave of Baby Boomers reaches 65 years of age. And there is a flood of future LTC residents building up behind them. Administrators and their foodservice managers need to start learning now about the dozens of diet variations and adjustments residents will expect. How well the professionals learn and adapt may be critical to how well their facilities continue to attract residents. It is still true that one of the first questions a prospective resident asks is, “How is the food?”

KEEPING IT KOSHER

Chef Jean Duroseau with residents at Jewish Home Assisted Living, River Vale, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Jewish Home Assisted Living.

Chef Susan Surchev, director of foodservice, serves desserts at the Tulsa Jewish Retirement & Health Center. EVAN TAYLOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Closeup of temping desserts at the Tulsa Jewish Retirement & Health Center. EVAN TAYLOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Of the many religious/cultural dietary regimens found in LTC communities, kosher is currently the most common. And, surprisingly, its reach is wider than some might suppose. Menachem Lubinsky, a Brooklyn-based marketing consultant with close ties to the kosher food sector, says, “Kosher has a broad appeal not only to people who observe the Jewish dietary laws, but members of other religious groups, as well as ordinary consumers who believe kosher is better and healthier.”

According to Lubinsky, nearly 40% of the $12-billion kosher food market comes from foodservice. Nor is the product lineup limited to the clichés of gefilte fish and knishes, but now boasts many upscale specialty foods ranging from spelt-free to sushi. It is increasingly common to find natural and organic options, and more suppliers are tuning in to health needs, offering low-fat, low-sugar, and no- and low-sodium selections.

The broadening of choices is good news for foodservice directors like Michael Grabner, who, as a regional director of operations for Morrison Senior Living, oversees 10 senior living/rehab facilities in Ohio and Kentucky. Grabner says, “Our goal is to balance the observance of the Jewish dietary laws or kashrut with a culinary creativity that the new generation of residents demands. In our menus, we strive to incorporate a variety of foods from different cultures (e.g., Asian, Southwestern, etc.), while staying within kosher guidelines.”

Cedar Village, which houses a 162-bed health center and 105 assisted living apartments in Mason, Ohio, is one of Morrison's kosher clients. Grabner says, “We work with the dining services team daily to strengthen their understanding of both the cultural and religious aspects of what we do along with the dietary standards and regulatory expectations.” Staff sample all the foods-even those modified for easy digestion-such as soft foods and purees. Grabner explains that in this way they are familiarized with flavor profiles and textures and can do a better job of satisfying the patients' expectations.

IN THE BIBLE BELT

Rabbinical supervision is a key element in the manufacture, preparation, and service of kosher meals. At Oklahoma's Tulsa Jewish Retirement & Health Care Center, says Rick Ousley, kitchen supervisor, all packaged products must have a hechsher, a seal or symbol identifying the overseeing authority. In addition, he says, suppliers are required to “provide us with the name of the supervising rabbi, which we keep on file, in case anyone asks.”

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