Saturday, April 15, 2006

Hospital food

I haven't written in so long, I don't know if anyone bothers to check this blog any more. My apologies to any readers still out there. I had mentioned befor that I had a friend in the hospital? Well, her condition worsened, and the situation is very serious. Between that and coming into the end of the semester, I have no been in any shape to think about food in any way.

I haven't been cooking much, just living on cafeteria food and yogurt and fruit and that sort of thing. Annie's Vegetable Pot Pies. I've tried to make reasonably healthful choices (the school caf will often have grilled salmon with vegetables or other decent options), but I've also fallen into some pretty bad habits. Remember scarfing down a bag of M&Ms to stay awake through class as an undergrad? Yeah, ahem. Or realizing you've eaten pizza three days in a row?

After a couple days of eating food that was designed to be cheap and easily prepared, I am craving nutrients. Fortunately, it's easier now to eat well without a lot of effort: there are fairly healthful options in the freezer case at the regular supermarket, fresh fruit is available everywhere, same with salad. It's easy - unless you're in the hospital.

I was visiting my friend yesterday when the dinner arrived. I am angry. This is what they offered a very, very sick woman: breaded chicken cutlets, which appeared to have been fried and then allowed to steam, a tiny bag of carrot sticks, a cup of broth, a slice of angel food cake, and a can of diet ginger ale.

Where to start?

The only vegetable on the plate was the bag of carrots, which, given that she is having a hard time with chewing and swallowing, was completely useless. Oh, and the bag was a little sealed one, which she would never have had the strength to open anyway. (The old woman sharing her room, who did actually eat her dinner, couldn't have opened hers either, and no nurse bothered to check in to help). The chicken looked horribly greasy. Ginger can help settle your stomach, it's true, but the idea of giving diet soda, with all the artificial flavors and colors and fake sweeteners, to a body that is weak and needs real food is just disgusting. And, of course, for our borderline diabetic patient, some angel food cake! Because nothing builds strength like a nice shot of pure white sugar and white flour.

The only intelligently-chosen item they offered was the broth.

I don't know why I was so shocked. I've just never spent time in hospitals, so I didn't know. But I wouldn't eat that stuff when I was well, not because it looked unappetizing (though it did), but because it was so lacking in nutrition. It wasn't much better than McDonald's. Memo to the doctors of America: this crap can make us sick in the first place! We don't want more of the same when we're actually sick.

I don't have the most healthful lifestyle, and therefore my body is not as sensitive as it should be. But if I ate food like that for a few days, I would start to feel gross - heavy, tired. Why do we give this stuff to people whose bodies are weak? This country is so ignorant about food, so divorced from the consequences of our insane eating habits, our bizarre system of growing food and dispersing food.

I hope to the gods that if I ever end up in a hospital, someone will be kind enough to bring me actual food: real beef stock made from the bones of pastured cows (I've got some in the freezer at all times), some pureed squash or pumpkin with a little ginger in it, a nice custard made from real eggs and milk. Honest food, with healing in it. I hope that the hospital will allow it in. And I am furious that my friend has spent a month eating food that feeds neither her body nor her soul.