What Our Food Says About Us

I spent this last weekend in New York, and like many other taste-chasers, one of the main reasons I visit so often is to eat.  We had brunch at Jean-Gorges in Trump Tower, tamales at Momofuku and late night pizza on the Upper West Side.  And while all of the food was delicious, what’s more interesting is that it was distinctive, and offered us a real sense of the place we were.  The food culture in New York is about creativity and innovation.  It’s the home of trend-setters and bar-raisers.  And it really got me thinking about what our food says about who we are.  The way we eat is a reflection of the way we live, what our values are, and how we engage with each other. 

When you consider this idea in the context of a hospital, the story you get is that food has been very consciously dismissed and devalued.  Hospital kitchens are the homes of cheap calories, touched as minimally by human hands as possible.  Our current story says that food doesn’t matter, and that serving hospital patients honestly good food is simply not worth the expense.  It says that the best option is always the cheapest option, which is in direct contrast with the story being told in the operating room, or at the bedside. 

What’s really exciting about this ReFRESHing our Menu project is the opportunity to change the story we’re telling with our food in hospitals.  We are busily working to test new recipes, make connections with local farmers and rethink the way the kitchen engages with patients.  We’re trying to bring good food to life for everyone in the hospital, and we’re starting with what’s on the plate. 

Yesterday, Debbie (our lead hospital chef) and I developed recipes for pureed vegetable soups.  Simple soups are great things to serve patients as they’re easy to both ingest and digest, and even if you don’t feel well enough to eat very much, you can get some substantial nourishment from a bowl of soup.  We made five soups yesterday, including: butternut squash and apple, carrot ginger, broccoli, cauliflower and tomato.  The soups couldn’t have been simpler, and were all vegan and Halal, which is important for our community.  All the soups were made with Ontario produce, and the colors were just gorgeous!  It’s important to me that the food we serve patients still has its life in it.  Making soups with fresh, raw ingredients lets those ingredients shine, and tells a much better story about what we grow and eat.  The soups were a huge hit with our tasting team, and we’re all so excited about the prospect of serving them to patients!

To learn more about the exciting work going on at The Scarborough Hospital please visithttp://transformingtsh.com/

If you would like to receive The Scarborough Hospital’s special monthly update on their innovative patient food improvement project, ReFRESHing our Menu, please email Julie Dowdie at jdowdie (at) tsh.to. 

- Joshna Maharaj, Chef, Writer & Activist