Hospital food

Maybe we shouldn’t worry about how bad things are going to get. Never mind the Greeks and the Spanish, as the Italians and then the French are inevitably forced to seek a bailout and the financial world collapses all around us, we just have to get used to a lower standard of living. And we can. We’ll soon get used to not having so much choice and such high standards and will learn to put up with things we’d have considered rubbish only a few years before.

And you know that’s right because you see people defend poor quality all the time; simply because they’ve never experienced anything better, or have forgotten what better’s like. One of my best mates thinks I’m daft when I go on about the chemical-tasting water we get supplied with along the River Tees but that’s because he’s never drunk any other. When he’s elsewhere he sticks to alcohol claiming it to be safer which I don’t argue with despite our local water not being in the least bit life-threatening. It just doesn’t taste life-enhancing.

So on the subject of life-enhancing, let’s talk about hospital food. I seem to have had to visit a lot of people in various hospitals over the last couple of years. And without exception the food’s been dreadful. And yet time after time you read letters in the press defending the stuff. Some people obviously like it but some people used to like Lada cars and they were still rubbish. They just didn’t know any better. Even the worst fish and chip shops get a few customers. There’s no accounting for taste, or the lack of it.

I’ve been visiting an elderly relative in hospital after he had a fall and broke his hip. He was lucky in that he found himself in one of the best hospitals in the country because it was new and a had a ward dedicated to the elderly who’d fallen and broken something.

Following his successful operation the objective was made clear that he needed to rebuild his strength and, to do that, he needed to eat. Now, this particular gentleman has been used, all his life, to well-cooked and sympathetically turned-out meals; not the unseasoned, over-cooked, unimaginative stuff that was now on offer. As is common with the elderly, following his operation he was confused and not able to make his normal rational decisions and therefore, not unlike a child, rejected the slop he was being fed. So he got weaker. However, his rationality returned and he realised that he needed to eat. But because of his weakening state, it was decided to purée the food and then reshape it to resemble its pre-puréed form. So someone in charge obviously recognised that food needs to look nice to be tempting. But they obviously hadn’t begun to acknowledge that it needed to taste nice too. In its puréed form its quality fell from awful to almost unimaginable. So he ate even less and, because his drinks were being thickened for the same reason that his food was being pureed, he rejected drink too and began to quickly waste away. Soon it was realised that the pureeing and thickening were not necessary but it was too late. He died of course and the certificate cited renal and chronic heart failure. Whether it was purely nature’s course or particularly down to his rejection of the food and drink I don’t know. But I have my suspicions.

Why, when a hospital is about the fundamentals of life, about its recovery, about a celebration of being alive and all that’s necessary to maintain that state, why do we not acknowledge that eating is as important as the quality of the nurses and doctors and drugs and the buildings and the car parking around the site? Food isn’t just about fuel but about desire and pleasure and it’s for these reasons we often eat too much. But in order to keep ourselves alive, surely something as fundamental as the food that enters the body, along with the drugs and the surgeon’s knife, should all reflect the same quality? As someone said to me in response to my questions: the need to make food attractive in hospital isn’t exactly rocket science.

But almost without exception, the nurses and auxiliaries and doctors said that they couldn’t eat the food. Am I the only one who thinks that just making sure it’s got enough calories and nutrients, without making every effort to make us want to consume it, is tantamount to a crime? It must certainly upset all those currently-motivated staff in their new hospital when they realise that, despite their medical efforts, the food’s not helping their task.

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