Category Archives: Hospital Food

Hospitals Serving Alligator? Or Crawfish Pie? Not Yet – But . . .


Here’s a story with disturbing implications. In Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, there is a 167-bed medical facility call the Alaska Native Medical Center – ANMC, for short. It serves Alaska Native and American Indian people from all walks of life, from all parts of that huge, far-flung state. Many of this hospital’s ‘clients’, it was reported recently in a special feature in the Alaska Dispatch News, “bring appetites for subsistence foods.” Foods such as caribou stew, seal, moose, herring eggs and tundra greens – foods, in other words, far from the routine and highly-regulated diets served to patients in nearly every other American medical facility.

But a few years ago, under pressure from the likes of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the federal government passed what’s known as the 2013 Traditional Foods Nourishment Act. It paved the way for the regular provision of subsistence foods at public and nonprofit facilities.

For the traditionalist patients at the ANMC, this meant that, as well as being able to get the ‘comfort foods’ they are used to, the comfort such foods provide actually serve to aid in their recoveries, sometimes enabling them to leave hospital earlier than might otherwise – on ordinary hospital diets – be the case.

That’s good news for the patients, for hospitals offering ‘traditional’ as well as ‘traditional hospital’ food, and for insurers of affected patients. And that often includes the federal government, because, it’s fair to assume, a good share of those preferring ‘traditional’ foods are on Medicare or Medicaid.

But what if – if the 2013 Traditional Foods Nourishment Act allows for it – the likes of, say, Cajuns, descendants of early French settlers of Louisiana, started asking for some of their ‘traditional foods’, such as alligator, crawfish pie, jambalaya, fried okra, Andouille and/or Boudin sausages and so forth, in Baton Rouge and New Orleans hospitals? (These people were, to paraphrase Loretta Lynn, Cajun when Cajun wasn’t cool!)

Or descendents of stolen-from-Africa former slaves in the American south, many of who still have a taste for foods once eaten out of desperation and long-since mainstays in their ‘traditional’ diets? (Imagine a hospital’s patients’ menu offering pigs feet, pork belly, pigs ears, catfish fritters, and chicken gizzards, etc.!!)

And if that law does not allow those other ‘native groups’, such as they are, to demand their own ‘traditional’ foods in hospitals and other government-run facilities, are their likely to be legal challenges demanding, in effect, ‘equal rights’?

The simple answer to that is ‘no’, because unlike the Alaska natives and Native Americans in Alaska, the latter ‘groups’ don’t have anything like the lobbying power of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

But one has to wonder how much clout it would take to successfully push that ‘equal rights’ button!


Irish Hospitals Get Rave Reviews on Food Service


A patient’s meal in an Irish hospital. (Photo: Alan Betson, The Irish Times)

While hospitals in the U.S. complain about how difficult it is to produce healthier diets for patients, at least two Irish hospitals have patients proclaiming their food to be “amazing”, “best I ever had”, “tasty” and “favorable”. And officials from the country’s Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) have noted, in observing presentations of meals such as boiled bacon, cabbage and vegetables being served up, that they were served “in an appetizing way,” according to a recent article in The Irish Times.

The HIQA officials told The Times that all the patients they interviewed spoke positively about their food – at Dublin’s Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, the same city’s St Columcille Hospital, and at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny, where patients described their food as “excellent”, “beautiful” and told inspectors it “tasted well”.

The quality of hospital food has long been a bugbear of patients and successive ministers for health have promised to make improvements, the paper said.

HIQA was asked to carry out unannounced inspections of nutrition and hydration in public hospitals and has just published its first three reports – with surprising results.

At St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, Dublin, all patients who spoke with inspectors were complimentary and satisfied with the taste of the food and drinks provided. They were also satisfied with the choice offered, though the HIQA report describes the variety of choice on the hospital menus as limited.

The main meal was fish or meat, but staff said scrambled eggs or shepherd’s pie were available as alternatives.

Patients in St Columcille’s were more muted in their enthusiasm, describing their food as “tasty” and providing a “good choice”. All were satisfied with the temperature of the food and said their hot meals were hot on arrival.

HIQA says the hospital must ensure quality improvement efforts are in place to meet patients’ nutritional and hydration needs. Patients must be screened for the risk of malnutrition and training in the area should be further improved, taking account of patients’ own experiences.

HIQA says all patients have a right to safe, nutritious food and the provision of meals should be individualized and flexible.

‘Patient Sandwiches’ Earn ‘Curious’ Tweet in UK

patient sandwich package

With the best of intentions, a hospital in Northwest England posted a notice recently that “patient sandwiches” had become available. Shortly thereafter, a clever Tweeter declared, “I always wondered what they did with the left over body parts after surgery.”

Hardly surprisingly, the tweet went viral.

The Bolton News, under a headline reading ‘hospital food goes from bad to worse with ‘Patient Sandwiches’ now being served’, said the notice announcing the new food offering “suggests that patients should have major concerns about what is in hospital food. After all, hospital grub already had a bad reputation before the tweet revealed that ‘Patient Sandwiches’ are now being served.”

The tongue in cheek tweet, written by a patient at a Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust hospital has had around 800 likes and been retweeted more than 380 times.

All else aside, this incident stresses the fact that what one says may, at times, be only somewhat as important as how they say it.

I’m reminded of the old advertising exec’s advice to the man opening a retail fish store. He’d prepared a sign saying “Fresh Fish Today.” The ad exec said it was too wordy. “Does anyone,” he asked, “want to buy fish that aren’t fresh? Eliminate that word. And,” the exec added, “isn’t it fair to say that a potential customer walking into your shop has every reason to expect the fish you are selling today are fresh? Eliminate the word ‘today’.” In the end, the sign read simply “Fish.”

Similarly, the hospital’s announcement of an addition to its menu for patients – not a new addition, as there’s no such thing as an ‘old’ addition – kind of overshot its mark when it said ‘patient sandwiches,’ as patients were, in fact, clearly the intended beneficiaries of this menu adjustment. Would it not, therefore, been enough to note that ‘sandwiches’ had been added to the menu? (Not the menu choices, as a menu is, by definition, a list of things one can choose amongst or between – depending whether its an English menu or an American one!)




Many Hospitals Lack Taste In Food Service Offerings



The symbol for the Food Services and Nutrition Department at J.C. Blair Hospital, Huntingdon PA, where the mission is to serve “tasty, appealing and nutritious meals.” Sadly, many hospitals’ food service operations don’t share this mission statement.

Who better than the non-profit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to evaluate the healthiness or lack thereof in hospital food service?

The Committee, which has 12,000 physician members, recently obtained and closely analyzed patient menus and the types of foods offered to hospital staff and visitors from 24 hospitals across the U.S. They were a representative sampling of 262 hospitals surveyed by the Committee, including the country’s 50 largest public hospitals and at least one facility in every state.

Some of what they discovered was, in a word, shocking! An incredible number of hospitals not only have contracts with fast feeders such as Wendy’s and Chic-fil-A, many also encourage or acquiesce to demands that they do all they can to boost the sales of ordinarily-seen-as-unhealthy foods to boost either the fast food company’s or the hospital’s profits.

Such contracts fly in the face of Harvard research presented at an American Heart Association meeting last year that found study participants who ate fried foods up to three times a week saw an 18 percent increased risk for heart disease. The risk increased with the frequency of fried food consumption, with about a 25 percent increased risk if eaten four to six times a week and up to 68 percent if eaten seven times or more a week. This information is, of course, readily available to hospital administrators – and actively ignored by many of them.

One of the most surprising and hard-to-believe un-noted findings of the Committee’s study was the apparent unconcern that hospital staff, presumably including a fair number of doctors, exhibit about the food offerings of the facilities where they work. Not only does hospital staff seemingly accept without question the quality of food offered to them, they also seem to be less than acceptably concerned about what’s fed to their patients. The latter, of course, rightfully anticipate their health is the primary concern of those treating them and the institution itself.

These days, one doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of health issues related to the consumption of too much fat, etc., to appreciate that putting profit before nutrition is something hospitals should not be doing. And the PCRM is fighting back, with the likes of a hard-hitting campaign against the 20 U.S. hospitals, including four in Texas, that feature Chick-fil-A outlets and the not-very-healthy foods they offer. This advertising campaign, which started January 25, includes billboards, street kiosks and other sites where Chick-fil-A’s advertising is mocked with a photo of three white-coated doctors holding signs saying “Eat More Chickpeas.” The ads encourage viewers to “Ask your local hospital to go #FastFoodFree!” A website,, lists Twitter handles and other contact information for hospitals that host Chick-fil-As. Additionally, large bus shelter ads are positioned near Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta.

“Many of the hospitals that host Chick-fil-As are in states with high rates of diet-related diseases, making hospitals part of the overall toxic food environment,” says Angie Eakin, M.D., M.S., one of the doctors who appears in the advertisements. “Hospitals should be fast-food-free, and patients should eat more chickpeas, vegetables, fruits, and other foods that can promote healing and prevent disease.”

Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta has a “percentage rent” agreement with McDonald’s, meaning the more artery-clogging burgers and shakes sold to patients, the more money the hospital makes. When Grady’s McDonald’s contract expires in June 2016, it should consider expanding the healthful options in its cafeteria.

Several hospitals named in the Physicians Committee’s previous reports have recently improved their food environments by closing McDonald’s restaurants. These include Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Texas, Memorial Regional Hospital in Florida, Riley Children’s Hospital in Indiana and the Cleveland Clinic. Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minnesota has announced it will soon close its McDonald’s, ending its contract early.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, MS and others that host fast-food restaurants earned lower scores in the 2016 report.

The Chick-fil-A contract with the University of Mississippi Medical Center asks the medical center to “make every reasonable effort to increase the sales and business and maximize the Gross Receipts.” This means the hospital is promoting fried chicken and other foods tied to serious chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes.

“Hospitals that are fast-food-free and instead have rooftop gardens earn the highest scores,” says Karen Smith, R.D., senior dietitian for the Physicians Committee. “Hospital gardens provide fresh vegetables for hot soup and other plant-based patient meals that can prevent or reverse diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.”
Hospitals earning the highest Patient Food Scores include Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island (NY), which has a rooftop garden, Aspen Valley Hospital in Aspen, CO., C.S. Mott children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI, and Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.