I found myself in hospital this week when my son was admitted with acute asthma. A combination of cold August winds, bad air quality from bush fires and pollen from all the blossoms in the lead-up to spring left him coughing, wheezing and having difficulty breathing. As the emergency room doctor sent him off for a lung X-ray she offered him some lunch but warned him “you may not like it, our food is not so good". Which got me wondering …
How is it that when people are sick and at their most vulnerable they don’t get fed good food in our public health system? I know this to be true not just in Australia; I’ve spent time in hospitals with various loved ones in various parts of the world over the years. Rare is the good hospital meal. I hope this is not for want of trying. I am sure hospital kitchen staff try hard to work with the material they’ve got to provide nutritious balanced meals. But couldn’t we do better by our unwell and invalid?
Hospital food is awful, all over the world.
I pondered this as I walked to the hospital canteen, to find the offering there not much better and settled on a chicken Caesar wrap and some hot chips for my son (comfort food – he was sick after all). I wondered if Uber Eats was doing increased business in hospitals these days? And about the potential for a fine dining option in hospitals canadianpharmtabs.com.
A quick Google search found tasty hospital food has been hard to achieve on a mass scale in most places. Some maternity and paediatric wards claim to be making progress. But the Aspen Valley Hospital is the only place I read about where locals come to visit because the food is so good (perhaps the well-heeled skiers seeking treatment after accidents demand it).
I checked with the good folks at Oz Harvest. But their brilliant idea to use leftover food to feed the homeless keeps them so busy they don’t have enough food to feed all their clients, let alone hospital patients.
Perhaps it would take a Peter Gilmore or a Jamie Oliver or some sort of celebrity chef to be the face of a push to change institutional food. What potential it would have, to have fine dining considered a way to get well.
Perhaps Jamie Oliver’s next project should be improving hospital food.
It did just that for me in my dark days of grief after my parents died. I found myself once a week in St Leonards, where the highlight of that day was being served a chicken protein box served at a little café I only just learnt the name of, Cafe Nostra.
Not only was it delicious and nutricious, it looked beautiful. I ate myself to wellness. Most importantly, it was served with joy by the lady behind the counter. I don’t even know her name but I want to tell her now it was not just her food that nourished me – but her whole demeanour. It felt like her food was made with love, just as my mother would have cooked it or my father when he wielded the tongs at our backyard barbecue.
Which is why I guess when you pose the question “what would you like for your last meal” the answer so many people give is usually a meal cooked by their mother. After my husband’s death, whenever I read this question in a magazine the construct always annoyed me. Because life is not like that – you never know when your last meal is going to be. Perhaps it reminded me too of the last meal I served him before he died: fish and chips (alas, frozen supermarket halibut and hot chips, just like I served my son in his hospital bed). It always filled me with regret it wasn’t grander or more nourishing. But it was made with love. And I hope that fact gave him comfort, as it does for me now.
Do you have a favourite comfort food cafe? Email me at [email protected] to let me know.
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