Imagine scrambled eggs. Now imagine them in the shape of a hockey puck. As near as you can tell, they may be reconstituted, and they may be microwaved. They definitely did not have any fat or salt added to them for the cooking process. This is the image that I have of hospital food, because it was what I had to eat while recovering from surgery many years ago.
Hospital food, by and large, is terrible. In the US and Canada definitely, and I suspect in many other places as well. There's a video below about hospital food in Canada, and it goes into the whys and how that particular hospital is changing things. (Thanks Jodi for the link)
There is, I suspect, a deeper reason for the lack of attention (and money) paid to hospital food, and that's because there's a belief that, from a healing perspective, food is less important than medicine. Food, to many, is about avoiding bad things, and is about nutritional content and calorie count and the like. If you can keep those quantifiable things vaguely in line, then whatever you eat is just as good as anything else.
Personally, I don't believe that's the case. Aside from our inability to really understand what's happening with the interaction between food and our bodies except in the case of a few small factors (cholesterol, fat, vitamins, fiber, etc), we really don't know how food works. Even ignoring that, there's a bigger issue, which is how we feel.
When you're home and you get the flu, what do you want? Comfort food. Most likely, you want chicken soup, especially if you're raised in certain cultures. Maybe the details of the kind of food differ, but when you are feeling poorly, one of the things that makes you feel better is good food. It's not just fuel, it sets the tone for the day. It gives you motivation and energy. In cognitive terms, if you can use the sense memories around food to bring back memories of comforting times, then your brain will be primed more for comfort than for pain. You might, might, even heal faster. At the very least, you won't suffer as much while you are recovering.
If the best the food can offer is bringing up memories of either other trips to the hospital or maybe an airline trip in coach class, then neither of those associations are going to help.
Another issue, one that honestly I'm surprised to hear is a thing, is that hospitals aren't paying attention to food allergies. If someone is gluten intolerant, and you feed them something wheat-y, then we're not talking about psychological effects, but genuine physiological harm. That's beyond the realm of misguided and into the range of seriously negligent.
Incidentally, there are some hospitals, I'm told, that have really good food. Not just "Good for hospital food" food, but honest-to-goodness good food. Here is a short list of hospitals with good food that my Twitter followers sent me:
- Candler Memorial Hospital in Savannah GA apparently had fantastic hamburgers (via Michael)
- Hopital in York, ME (via Matt)
- Hospitals, mostly in NYC, that have Bikur Cholim Services (via Sarah)