Hospital Food

This piece was written for my book, Kitchen Party, but somehow, in the transferring of 47 essays and images to the final manuscript, it got lost. I remembered/discovered it this past weekend and was very disappointed, because not only was it written specifically for the book, it is one of my favourite pieces. So I’m sharing it here instead. If you like it, please check out my book over at Stained Pages Press, which is full of similar pieces.

Donuts. Muffins. Trays upon trays of little bowls of pudding; today it’s vanilla. Pan after pan of brownies and carrot cake, both options on the regular menu for tomorrow. And, can it be? A three-layer birthday cake decorated with frosting roses and swags. “Happy Birthday Andrea”. I don’t know who Andrea is but she must be someone special to warrant a huge cake like that in a place like this.

So cold. I can’t stop shivering. The sleeves on my uniform are short, if someone doesn’t show up soon, I’m going to freeze to death. They’ll find me in the morning, asleep in a corner, discarded muffin wrappers around me, jam from the donuts in splurts down the front of my apron, my exposed skin slathered with the butter-cream from Andrea’s cake as an extra layer of insulation against the cold.

What time does the morning shift start anyway?

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Lucky Dip – Monday, June 27th, 2011

I’m pleased to see a food-centred blog on Moneyville, and savvy-shopper-type tips on how grocery stores manipulate shoppers are useful and important. But for the life of me, I don’t get point #1 and the disjointed logic the writer uses. Having grown up with family members who worked in a grocery store, I’m pretty sure that the produce misters are there to keep greens like lettuce from wilting and drying out, not to make them look better so you’ll buy more junk food. [Toronto Star: Moneyville]

Big, wide rock fingers to Joshna Maharaj for not only talking about how chefs need to be involved in food activism but for getting out there and doing it. Maharaj is working with Scarborough Hospital to make patient meals there more nutritious – and delicious. You rock, lady! \m/_  [Globe and Mail]

My friend Jodi’s Great-Grandma used to make moonshine. And much hilarity ensued. [Nostrovia!]

I’ve been contemplating writing a piece on how restaurants can utilize social media, but this one says everything that I would have. Like, OMG – ditch the crap flash website and get yourself a WordPress site. [Zester Daily]

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Not What You Want When You’re Sick

My very first job was delivering meals in a hospital. It was the 80s, and it was Nova Scotia, so we’re not taking Michelin 3-star cuisine here; the food was straightforward, comforting and fairly bland. But it was all made in-house, in a massive kitchen that (between patients and cafeteria) cooked 1200 meals three times a day. For hospital/cafeteria food, it was pretty decent, and as reasonably unprocessed as you can get working with that quantity.

Hospital food has always gotten a bad rap, but in the mid-90s, in order to cut expenses, almost all hospitals switched from in-house food prep to using contracted services. From a business standpoint, it totally makes sense – even dietary aides and cafeteria workers are unionized – back when my friends were making the late-80s minimum wage of $3.50 an hour, I was making $8.10. Holidays got me double that. Paying a flat per meal rate to an off-site caterer winds up being a lot cheaper. And that space where the cafeteria used to be – well, why not rent that out to fast food chains, since that’s what people like to eat anyway?

That 80s hospital food wasn’t gourmet by any means but at least there was a notion, a pretense, of it being nutritionally sound. My bosses were nutritionists and dietitians, not marketing wonks looking to save a buck.

The result was that hospital food’s reputation got even worse. I know plenty of people who have friends or family bring them food from home while in hospital, because the stuff from the contracted caterers is just inedible.

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