Redefining hospital food | Joshna Maharaj | TEDxToronto


Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Reiko Bovee Imagine you’ve just had surgery. You’re groggy, you’re waken up
from the anesthetic, you’re tired,
there’re tubes in your arms, and it’s been about 18 hours
since you had anything to eat. So you are starving. You anxiously await the arrival of the hospital tray, and when it arrives, you lift the lid, to uncover two dry pieces of roast beef an ice cream scoop of lean mashed potatoes, and there’s some boiled peas
rolling around on the plate! There’s a plastic cup of cold coffee and a little container of fruit cocktail,
that’s come out of a can. And no butter and no salt on the tray continue the theme of tastelessness. You could also end up with this tray. Hospital food is made with the cheapest available ingredients using the least amount
of human contact possible, to minimize on the cost of labor. We live with the privilege
of universal health care, but some parts
of the system do not work. We boast about our innovative and uncompromising medical care system but we have completely dismissed
the importance of wholesome,
nutritious food in this effort. Currently in Ontario, it costs about 1,200 dollars
a day for a hospital bed, and the average length of stay is between four and six days. Yet, we spend under ten dollars a day to feed a patient. And that ten dollars gets you three meals worth
of a bland, monochrome, edible food-like substances. (Laughter) And because of this, hospital food has become
famously ridiculed. Now, I need to be clear
about something here. The poor quality of food
served to patients in a hospital has nothing to do with the skill and dedication of the hospital kitchen staff. And everything to do with what they are given to work with. Hospital cooks across the province have been making it work for years with increasingly narrowed budgets. And they all know that the food that are serving to patients is not the best
that they could be serving. The truth of this lies in the waste. Just over 40%, in some cases, just over 40% of the food, that is put on patient trays is returned to the kitchen. This means that almost half
my friends, almost half of the food, that we serve our patients in a hospital just takes the long road
to the garburator. And when surveyed, patients give a mediocre review shrugging their shoulders, saying: “Well, for a hospital food,
it’s not that bad.” I am here today to tell you, my friends, that our standards are far too low. I am sick and tired of seeing
more lousy evidence of years worth of budget cuts, aren’t you? Thank you. (Laughter) The situation is that bad. And what we need now is change. We must remember that this is our system and our money that is being
so terribly misspent. But there’s good news. There is a new vision for hospital food and it is one that puts wholesome,
sustainably-sourced fresh food at as high a priority
as the medical care that you receive. I have just started working on a project at a hospital here in Toronto, to uplift the food culture
and redefine hospital food. And I am here today, to share my ideas for a new vision for food in hospitals. The most compelling reason to serve hospital patients good food is because it’s simply
the right thing to do. It is more respectful to serve
sick people good, real food. Imagine a scenario in a hospital kitchen where they receive
farm fresh deliveries of produce and the staff work busily making beautiful meals with love and care. On the tray might be a bowl of Congee or a little simple salad or even one perfectly ripe juicy peach. Everything on the tray is exactly what the patient ordered in a conversation with the human being who visits them at bedside everyday. This will create a system
that actually works. And we can all be proud of this next step in our continued leadership
in health care around the world. We have a real opportunity here, to make a small investment now for greater savings and rewards later. Spending more money on food in hospitals will reduce our impact
on the health care system in the future. Investing in the labor required
to make that fresh food will create a culture of security
for hospital kitchen staff who constantly feel like their jobs are on the chopping block due to incessant rounds of budget cuts. This is Debbie. Debbie is our lead cook in the kitchen. And Debbie has recently traded in
her usual hospital scrubs for 28 year-old chef whites
that she dusted off from the laundry room. Because she is so thrilled
to finally be cooking again. Now, the Ontario cherries on top of this (Laugther) is that good food
for patients in a hospital is also good for business. There is an opportunity here to make a substantial reinvestment into a local economy. And the buying power of hospitals can really, really nurture agricultural and local economies, giving our farmers
some much needed job security. Ontario strawberries were the first things that hit the trays
this season at the hospital, and the farmer who grew them was over the moon with excitement at the thought that his fruit was being served
to patients in a hospital. In a message to me, he wrote: “So you mean, you are actually
going to be using Ontario tax dollars to buy Ontario food
to feed Ontario patients?” (Laughter) A truly sustainable food culture involves the reanimation
of all of the people involved in the journey,
from farm to plate. This is about celebrating all of the hands involved
in getting meals on the table and the collective effort
that’s required to pull this off. In addition to all
of the good food on the trays is a note from the kitchen and the farm wishing patients a speedy recovery. And on the farm, is this sign
with a stick, saying: “Earmarking rows of crops
for folks in the hospital.” Isn’t that a great photo? We can no longer let budgets dictate how we care for patients, and we must, right now, reinvest in the value of human effort. Hospitals are places where we heal, we nurse wounds, and we recover. And hospitals have
an incredible opportunity right now to take a leadership role
in the good food revolution. A sustainable food culture
around the hospital, will create a community food hub
around the hospital, extending the principles
of health and wellness far beyond the four walls of the building. There is a weekly farmers market on site and cooking classes for patients so that they learn to feed themselves just as well when they go home. Local chefs and farmers
are regular members of the hospital community, visiting to cook special meals and to teach workshops
to staff and patients. On the trays,
on the other side of the note, is a recipe. Formatted to look like a prescription sending a very clear message that good food is just as much
a part of recovery as rest and medication. And in the gift shop, they sell cookbooks, and jars of soup, and dry mixes for the baked goods
that are on the patient menu. Because patients swear that the best they have ever eaten, was when they were in the hospital. My friends, we can redefine hospital food. And we can make hospital food the standard by which excellence
in food is measured. Our health and our lives are surely
worth the effort. Thank you very much. (Applause)

12 thoughts on “Redefining hospital food | Joshna Maharaj | TEDxToronto

  1. TRUTH! I was in for 11 months in 2002 and food s blandnesss and lack of healing energys got so bad-after months of advocating for organic fresh food and Hospital refusing or saying yes then nothing happens, plan b organic farms brought in fresh food for me-a story for another day…WE ARE WHAT WE EAT!

  2. To tucantmesswith….what does weight have to do with bringing important issues that we Canadians face everyday to fruition.
    Have you been a long term patient in a hospital, with NO family to stop by and give you what the hospital isn't.
    Are you comments not similar to what a cyber bully would do????…..

  3. Weight Watchers is calling, we can help you Joshna! Lol hope she doesn't wear a bikini in the summer–can I say beached whale if she does? Yup I can

  4. @Natters61 his/her name is 1ucantmesswith–I'm pretty sure it is NOT a t in front of their name… learn to read-his/her name is NOT tucantmesswith it's 1ucantmesswith (ONEucantmesswith)

  5. I thought she wasn't going to talk about how important good nutrition is to a recovering patient. She did mention it briefly at the end. I'd say it's the #1 reason to serve better food.
    I once spent two days in a hospital eating broth and jello because they said I could only have liquids, until my friend brought me a cheeseburger. It made the nurse mad but I didn't get sick.

  6. I've been fortunate not to have stayed in any Ontario hospital as a patient and been given a meal. Fresh? Nutritious? I doubt it.

    In Kingston, Ontario, apparently, meals are prepared by a company outside of this city, and the hospital kitchen staff do little more than to warm up any hot items and to unpackage the rest. It does not surprise me that many patients rely on friends and family to bring them something that they prefer to eat, rather than an indifferent tray of surprises that they wouldn't choose if given any real choice, during a short stay. These hospitals don't need "cooking classes" to teach patients how to prepare healthy meals; they need administrators and nutritionists who actually place some value on comforting the sick patient, instead of cutting budgets and getting a fat wage. If the cafeterias, (or Tim Horton's at KGH), served the same meals to their customers that is served to the patients on the wards, they'd soon lose their most of their business from the doctors, nurses, other hospital staff, and visitors.

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