Celebration Meals as the Key Ingredient to Fostering Belonging and Equity

by | Sep 9, 2022 | Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

By Jeremy Hough, Director of Ancillary & Safety Services, John Muir Health

John Muir Health’s journey to celebrate and honor staff diversity through food

When I joined John Muir Health in 2018, I was surprised to learn that there was no consistent, cross campus celebration of cultural and religious holidays in the hospital cafés beyond the standard Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for staff. 

In 2019, I began a program to offer celebration meals for holidays and cultural events to celebrate diversity through food and to highlight different cuisines. Not only did this effort serve as a way to encourage inclusivity through observances, but it also provided a jovial means of educating staff members, patients, and partners on culturally or religiously significant days throughout the year.

We started by engaging our ERG partners

Prior to 2019, occasional holidays were observed in our Cafés, but there was no set rotation or involvement from the Employee Resource Groups (ERGS), and when there were celebrations, there was a lack of communication to the staff. In 2019, I met with a few people (who would later become members of our ERGs) to strategize how to best engage our ERG partners to support menu development and celebration communications. The first “new” event that we celebrated with a special menu was Juneteenth in 2019. Later the same year, we had a small celebration to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month. One of the lessons learned during this phase of initial celebrations was to ensure all members of the respective cultural groups had a mechanism to provide input on the celebrations to maximize inclusivity.

In late 2019, members of our Nutrition Services Department worked with the Black Caucus to develop menus and marketing materials to celebrate Black History Month in February of 2020. The menus for Black History Month highlighted cuisines from across the United States and the globe – there was one celebration menu each week in February 2020, and the marketing materials highlighted the source regions and chefs. The event met the overarching objective in creating inclusivity and impact by applying the 2019 lessons learned and encouraging active participation from the Black Caucus in the planning and marketing. 

We continued by adding celebrations … and sharing the stories behind them

In 2021, Nutrition Services regrouped after Covid-19 delayed our initiatives. We worked with the newly formed John Muir Health Belonging and Equity Office to feature celebration menus and marketing materials throughout the year. By partnering with Belonging and Equity, we planned celebration meals for: Black History Month; Women’s History Month; Asian American Pacific Islander Month; Pride Month; and Hispanic Heritage Month. Coordination with the ERGs has been crucial to the variety of the food we offer and to generating excitement around the celebration meals. 

In 2022, we partnered with the Middle Eastern Caucus to add celebration meals for Nowruz, Eid, and Arab Heritage Month. Additionally, the Black Caucus provided us with additional education about the history of certain menu items, such as “the true story of Hush Puppies,” to supplement the marketing materials.

Going forward, John Muir Health Nutrition Services will continue to expand the celebration meal footprint and increase engagement with the Belonging and Equity Department and the Employee Resource Groups to have the menus and food offerings in our Cafés reflect the diversity of our employees, physicians, patients, and volunteers.

Bite off as much as you can chew, then take another bite

The key lessons we learned on this journey was to start with a small event and work towards a larger program. We focused on our successes and leveraged them as the foundation to layer future functionality. After each event, we connected with the ERG to solicit feedback to utilize for the next celebration cycle. I am proud to say that the Café celebrations to support diversity and inclusion have become a highlight of our service offerings and events that everyone looks forward to throughout the year. Inclusivity is our secret ingredient in the Nutrition Services Department, and it could be yours too.

Jeremy Hough is a 2022 CAHL Volunteer of the Year recipient in the category of Fostering Diversity and Inclusion