Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Career Search: Health care reform means more food jobs

by Irena Chalmers

Editors' note: "Career Search," a column exploring of the vast range of culinary careers awaiting culinary graduates, appears in each quarterly issue of Chef Educator Today. For the Summer 2010 issue, CET has selected to put it on our blog.

The idea of eating well--or, at least, better--increasingly begins before the beginning. It has become accepted that pregnant women should watch what they eat to better ensure that their well-nourished babies get a huge head start in life.

I would not have believed this had I not seen it with my own eyes. Decades ago, at the moment the U.K. government instituted the National Health System, it was decided that all graduate nurses who wished to specialize in a specific branch of medicine were required to first become midwives. To this day I have never understood the logic of this, but in order to concentrate on my chosen field of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, I trudged to Aberdeen, Scotland, to assist in the birth of 50 babies. (Fifty was the number required to achieve certification.)

All this is a preamble to say that when we nurses arrived at the obstetrics ward we could often match the contented babies to their contented mothers. The fractious, restless, sometimes low-birth-weight babies could similarly be identified with their moms. Failure to thrive doesn't occur at the moment of birth, but as a result of poor nutrition during gestation. The risks and rewards of securing a healthful diet have lifetime consequences. Fortunately, we can already see healthy and nutritious food choices taking up more shelf space in supermarkets.

Healthy food is now prepared in hospitals and company cafeterias, schools in school systems and colleges, museum restaurants, spas, the military and upscale retirement homes. Local farms are providing farm-to-table fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats, free-range chickens and sustainable fish for restaurants. And farmers' markets are gaining more fans. This rethinking of the food everyone will be eating is gathering momentum not only to those who can afford the very best but for everyone.

We are also seeing large food-processing companies and chain restaurants improving the nutrient profile of their foods. These are small steps, admittedly, and perhaps the cynics will be justified in sniffing that these are more public relations moves than a genuine interest in improving the diet of a very large planet. But steps, no matter how small, are still steps that offer employment for many good cooks and culinary school graduates.

So, how can you get in on this? How do you get started?

Decide which specific sector of the vast, ever-expanding food and hospitality field appeals to you, and make a goal to join it. For instance, Sodexo and Aramark have employees working worldwide in institutional foodservice, sports stadiums and facilities of every kind. Their customers are seeking fast yet healthy choices.

Check out the Web sites of companies known for promoting healthy, delicious foods, such as Wegmans, Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's.

Explore the employment opportunities in menu development for your local hospital and school systems. For instance, consider volunteering to teach a class of kids how to start their own school garden and develop recipes from their harvest.

Lastly, track down specific trade magazines, and check out the classified pages that list job openings.

These suggestions are merely a start. You will find your own way. Whether you agree or disagree with the new health care reform, there are food job opportunities to seize.

Irena Chalmers is a columnist for Chef Magazine and a Culinary Institute of America faculty member. Her latest book is Food Jobs: 150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers and Food Lovers.