Yesterday I got to visit the hospital at my university and go behind the scenes of their food preparation service, and see what goes into the food at a highly ranked, state university affiliated hospital. Let’s just say once delivery got underway, I was thoroughly horrified.
I do need to preface my observations with the fact that this hospital and its staff are GREAT people, very dedicated to their jobs and to providing the absolute best service to their patients that they can, while staying in budget and following dietary guidelines that regulate what they can serve their patients. The food is actually very delicious, well presented, and customizable to the patient’s wants and needs. I wanted to put that out there in case anyone is reading this as a critique of UNC Hospitals specifically, because I think they do a wonderful job under the constraints they’re in, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to talk with the managers behind the scenes and learn what kind of pressures they deal with on a regular basis. Yayyy UNC!
I would like to offer this as a critique of the dietary guidelines that govern what our hospitals are allowed to serve sick patients. I offer up an example of a “USDA-approved” liquid diet substitute, which is provided to patients who cannot tolerate a solid diet:
Skim Milk! Corn Syrup! Corn Oil! HFCS! Soy protein isolate! It’s magically delicious!
On a more serious note… is this SERIOUSLY what we are feeding patients while spending thousands of dollars (per person) trying to heal them? How can anyone possibly think that this type of “food” (is that even the correct term?) is going to promote healing and recovery, when the majority of the ingredients are inflammatory, immune provoking, insulin spiking, and liver damaging??
I certainly don’t blame the hospitals for serving this to their patients, because this is standard protocol for patients who cannot eat solid foods and need to maintain a certain calorie intake. But really, “Hormel HEALTH Labs”, can’t we do better than this??
It doesn’t end there, though. As I was helping put together trays for delivery to the bedridden patients, I couldn’t help but notice the wide variety of sodas that were available. There was regular cola, diet cola, diet and caffeine free cola, regular caffeine free cola, you name it. Not to mention juices, sweetened iced tea flavored beverages, canned lemonade… all bursting with sugar, corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavors, the list goes on. And I realized I was putting together trays for RENAL patients. As part of their “heart healthy” meal (as defined by good ol’ USDA), which was low in fat and sodium, these patients were allowed to have a carte blanche on the amount of soda they wanted to drink at any point during the day. Unless they had liquid limitations, or if they were diabetic (in which case they were limited to diet soda for the most part), there was absolutely no limit on the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages these sick patients were allowed to have. The fact that they were renal patients just made me even that more upset, since their kidneys are clearly not capable of detoxifying the chemicals that would flood into their system as they drank these sodas.
Along with the soda, the patients were allowed to order chocolate cake, brownies, ice cream, cheesecake, canned fruit, jello…. And on the heart healthy menu, if you were in the hospital for a heart related condition, you weren’t allowed to order scrambled eggs (because just think of all the dangerous cholesterol that would surge through your already damaged veins, causing incomprehensible damage…), but you were allowed to order PANCAKES. Because somehow pancakes are considered a “heart healthy” food. Someone please explain this to me? Because I’m confused.
Again, let me just reiterate that this is NOT a critique about this specific hospital, because after talking to the director of the patients’ food service system, he explained to me that their menu is regulated by the USDA Dietary Guidelines, and their heart healthy ratings are solely based on those recommendations provided to them by the government. It’s not like the hospital has the capability of developing its own nutrition standards for the food they serve, beyond taste and presentation (which was actually very impressive!)
I know this sounds like the rant of a crazy person, but I just needed to get this off my chest, because I was literally shaking as we walked around between the rooms handing out trays to these patients. I saw patients with legs so swollen they were turning purple. Patients with teeth missing. Patients with dementia that had to be told what food they were receiving. I even saw a male attendant that was wearing an eye patch. I soon learned that he had lost vision in that eye due to his diabetes, and he was struggling to see out of the other eye. This coming from a man who was not overweight by any means (but was missing about half his teeth). I was sick to my stomach with empathy and sadness for these patients for whom the American food system is completely and utterly failing.
On the bright side (there’s always a bright side), this was just another experience to contribute to my passion for impacting the way people in this country live their lives. There’s no reason that a young man should be going blind from diabetes. There’s absolutely no reason that our government should be allowed to pass off industrial agriculture byproducts to the sick and poor occupants of our state hospitals. This is beyond just “living an Ancestral lifestyle”. This is about human rights, and the right of all people to live healthy lives relatively free of debilitating, horrific diseases. Once we can separate our agricultural interests with our health care interests, I think we might actually be able to focus on healing the sick instead of prolonging their eventual decline into an early grave.
Let’s get the USDA out of our hospitals, for a start. Then maybe we can worry about our schools, our military, our prison system, our nursing homes, our welfare programs…. all that other fun stuff.