I have just had 24 hours in hospital, undergoing a ten minute, non-threatening sinus surgery which kept me in hospital overnight. Once home, I wore a glamorous "tampon" under my nose for three days, secured from my ears. No photograph recommended nor available. The results have been spectacular, recovery easy and as for my fifteen year old ear, nose and throat specialist, she's obviously a genius.
Not one to miss an interesting gastronomic moment, I took the opportunity to observe the catering for my evening meal.
In my home state, “Menu & Nutritional Standards for Public Hospitals” is a manifesto of 23 pages, updated regularly by a “Working Party” with a serious grasp of jargon and ducumentese.
“It is recommended that a gap analysis of the current menu against the Standards and the nutritional implications of any noncompliance be completed. This will require Standards Recipes to be in place, with nutritional analyses.”
Language like this makes one feel secure, doesn’t it?
It is noted that food is "fundamental to patient care in that it meets nutritional needs and contributes to a sense of well-being. Patients are provided with a variety of safe and good quality food that is appealing, enjoyable, and nutritionally adequate".
But as T.S. Elliot wrote "Between the dream and the reality falls the shadow..."
Nutrition unfortunately, seems to be achieved through rampant margarine, low fat milk and desserts, low-joule everything, appalling bread, the cheapest commercial biscuits and lots of sugar.
In a recent local newspaper article, a panel was asked to review or critique the latest menus. The Public Hospitals representative and “professional” dietician judged the meals as excellent, 5/5.
"While patients are in hospital, diet is a number one priority and will govern how quickly a patient recovers. Looking forward to something delicious (and hopefully nutritious) will make the patient feel better, whatever their ailment.”
Needless to say both the food writer and “lay person” did not find the meals delicious, observing tactfully that not all the options survived the holding and reheating process.
Hospitals used to have kitchens but they were refurbished to become reheating and distributing facilities. Food now (for city and suburban hospitals) is prepared off site, highly mechanised, standardised and regimented. Pleasure and grace easily fall victim to economy and efficiency.
On my tray I had...
A tomato soup, pleasantly chunky but so sweet that frozen, it could have made sorbet.
Two very firm chicken croquettes topped with 2 teaspoons of "gravy" .
Vegetables, carrots, corn, peas (capsicum for colour) all reheated from frozen with not a skerrick of butter, also soft roasted potatoes.
A plastic tub of very sweet custard and a plastic tub of green jelly (so much plastic).
A cup of tepid water from which to make tea.
In for a knee operation a couple of years ago, my best hospital treat came from a smuggled-in extension cord, an electric jug, a teapot, some Darjeeling, and a Les Blakebrough cup with its SAUCER. Bliss, better than chocolates or flowers.
If you have a friend in hospital I suggest you take in a vinaigrette dressing (made by you – dash of Dijon mustard, 1 part white wine vinegar, four parts olive oil) to help the food along. It can be kept for each meal, in the bed-side locker, along with the prunes and dried pears, (depending on your Endone requirements).
(But of course, hospital food is notorious. My tray was not brilliant but believe me, there is worse. Barcelona, in possibly Europe's top heart hospital, my partner was served a thick slice of steamed eggplant, no seasoning, no dressing, no salsa de tomate. Nada. (Check out on-line sites such as "Hospital Foods of the World" for some interesting viewing.)
Any ideas on improving a friend's hospital tray? Comment below.