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Food as Therapeutic Intervention

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General surgery resident and PhD student Annie Lalande explores sustainable food relationships

Annie Lalande is bringing a whole new understanding to the adage “you are what you eat.” The fourth-year UBC general surgery resident and second-year PhD student at UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability is passionate about the role food plays in promoting health and wellness, and the crucial role food plays in building community, strengthening culture, maintaining our planet’s health and nurturing joy.

Lalande’s PhD research examines the implications of treating food as a therapeutic intervention on hospital food services. With a team of support, she has carried out two projects at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) to better understand the strengths and limitations of VGH’s current service models.

Within the context of this study, Lalande aims to develop a new menu to offer to patients within the next year. She is also working on developing frameworks and educational materials that other health care providers could adopt to transform their food systems into healthier systems for both the people they treat and for the planet.

Working with VCH and the Nourish Anchor Collaborative Vancouver Cohort team, which Lalande currently co-leads, Lalande is developing prototype projects that address issues including healthy food provisions for health-care workers, access to Traditional Indigenous Foods and information campaigns.

Lalande’s passion for food, and its implications for both health care and the environment, comes from personal experience. Growing up with food allergies, food was a defining aspect of Lalande’s life. It posed challenges, but also created moments for communal connection whenever a meal brought her family and friends together.

While on clinical rotations, Lalande struggled to reconcile the unsustainable practices she witnessed, and participated in, with her own deeply held beliefs on the importance of sustainable food relationships on both individual and systemic levels.

“[There was an] increasingly clear need for everyone, including health care, to engage in planetary health. I also remember having regular discussions with patients around their poor food experience in the hospital, how profoundly that affected their recovery, and feeling quite powerless witnessing these challenges,” explains Lalande.

Fortunately, with the support of mentors including Dr. Andrea MacNeill, VCH’s Regional Medical Director of Planetary Health, and Dr. Jiaying Zhao, Lalande was encouraged to pursue her PhD and gain expertise to take action and begin to address these complex food issues.

Our health and that of our planet are intrinsically intertwined; we have seen this particularly acutely over the last few years here, with worsening fires, floods, droughts, heat waves and more,” says Lalande.


“I envision food as a lever to address many of these intersecting challenges, and I think health care is particularly well-positioned to play an important role. By considering food as a therapeutic intervention, appreciating all the roles it plays in our lives and health, we can change the way we make decisions about how we source food, what type of food we serve, and how we support patients’ health through food, while helping to be better stewards for our planet.”