Terry Fowler

Is Hospital Food Really Food?

Unpalatable. Inedible. Revolting.

Hospital food, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways….

Ten days in the hospital, and I have ceased to doubt there are limits to how bad institutional cooking can be. Hospital food can kill you, not so much because it contains deadly bacteria (though it may – who knows?) but more because it is devoid of nutrition.

I know, it’s an old complaint, but, for an institution of healing, lousy food negates whatever cure is being sought. The perversity of it all galls me, especially when one considers the amount of money that goes to overpriced drugs and executive salaries. Tens of thousands of patients’ stomachs are assaulted three times a day by foodlike substances whose only proper destination should be landfill.

I asked for no meat or fish, so I usually got – sometimes twice a day – a parade of lukewarm versions of pasta with thick floury sauces and teasing bits of cheese.

The wretched food is complemented by the vapid setup of the room. Just as any decent meal should be enhanced by thoughtful additions of herbs and spices, so a hospital (or other) room needs decorative touches that make it a pleasant place to hang out, so to speak. None of that here: the decor neatly matches the cuisine.

Thank heavens the staff compensated for the bleak surroundings with their sunny dispositions and expert care. But the whole effect was one of sensory deprivation.

The lack of even a modestly stimulating environment was a poignant contrast to the book my wife and I were reading to each other during my stay – The One Hundred Foot Journey, a luscious celebration of Indian street food and of French haute cuisine and their physical environs. The plot is excellent as well, but at its core are succulent descriptions of a myriad of dishes, their ingredients, and their modes of preparation from these two rich culinary traditions. All of them fairly leap off the pages, along with descriptions of the markets and places where the food originated.

The author has acquainted himself with dishes and lists of ingredients that left us both drooling. (For the most part. Some of the recipes combined weird, exotic fruits with sheep brains or various other unappetizing parts of animals’ anatomies.)

In a world where The Joy of Cooking (pun intended) is vanishing, this book intensified my longing for authentic food, not the repulsive products from the maw of industrial processing.

Everyone talks about bad hospital food, but it’s doubtful anything will be done about it. The only advice I can offer is, Don’t get used to it. That’s what they want.