A week of hospital food was enough to convince Ottawa General Hospital's managers and CEO that a major overhaul is needed. It's about time.
Hospitals are notorious for having awful food, which makes no sense when you consider they’re in the business of healing people, and food is one of the most effective tools for doing so. Change is slow to come about, despite patients’ complaints about poor taste, horrid texture, and empty nutrition.
In Canada’s capital city, however, things will hopefully improve more quickly. In an unusual display of leadership, the managers of the Ottawa General Hospital spent one week eating hospital food, three meals a day. At the end of the week, they all agreed that a major shift is needed.
CEO Jack Kitts responded to a woman who sent him a complaint letter:
“Thank you for raising your concerns with me. Our management team has recently eaten hospital food for a week and agrees with your observation that we need to improve the presentation and taste.”
Another unimpressed Ottawa resident wrote to Kitts about a friend’s description of hospital breakfast eggs as “yellow pucks of sadness.”
Ottawa General promises to revitalize and modernize its menu, getting rid of stuffy old staples like chicken à la king and stewed main dishes, while introducing items like quinoa salad, salads, and sandwich plates.
Yoni Freedhoff, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa and an outspoken advocate of nutritional reform in public health, pointed out in an article for the Ottawa Citizen that “it’s not just about the benefits of good hospital foods, it’s about the harms of bad.” He says the debate should not revolve around taste.
“Hospitals are about healing, and the foods they serve patients can help in that regard. They can help improve morale in that comforting, flavorful foods can boost our spirits, which in turn may accelerate rehabilitation and motivation. They can also help in that patients who don’t eat ‘hospital food’ because of its shortcomings in turn might not be providing themselves with the nourishment to support their bodies’ recoveries.”
Hospitals are not places in which patients’ picky palates should take priority, and yet, sadly, they often do. Last week Freedhoff was sent a picture on Twitter of a lunch served to patient in Texas. Lunch included Doritos, Oreos, and a packet of ‘real mayonnaise’ to squeeze over a sandwich.
The hospital supplying this meal defended its decision:
“Surprisingly, two dietitians from the hospital defended the meal on Facebook, telling Freedhoff that ‘if our hospital offered something like an organic kale salad with a side of quinoa to some of our patients in the ER, there would be massive rioting,’ and that the Oreos may be comforting to sick patients.” (via Motherboard)
There’s something terribly wrong with this picture. The job of hospitals as health care providers should not stop at performing surgeries, delivering babies, and setting broken bones. As long as patients recover within hospital walls, they should be nourished from within as well. We know it's possible because some hospitals are implementing wonderful, progressive changes to their patients’ diets. Consider the innovative hospital farm that’s been created at St. Luke’s University Hospital in Easton, Pennsylvania; and the Local Food Hub that makes locally sourced food available accessible to hospitals, as well as schools, universities, and seniors’ homes.
There’s a long way yet to go, particularly when you consider how many U.S. hospitals feature fast food joints right (even ‘McDelivery’ to children in hospital) within their boundaries. (See this map for more details.)
Ottawa General’s improvements sound promising, especially now that the CEO has personally experienced the full extent of the nutritional awfulness. It will be interesting to see how much healthier, fresher, seasonal, and delicious the meals actually become -- and whether the hospital's recovery rates improve, too.