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Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Friday, August 23, 2019

Hospital food, nutrition, food miles and community wealth building - give peas a chance?

A fortnight ago I emerged from my longest ever stay as a hospital inpatient, my life having been saved by our National Health Service. My stay in hospital coloured in my admiration for the NHS, and those who work in it, so that the abstract admiration for an institution is now adorned with specific recollections of caring individuals who helped me back from sepsis.

One aspect of the hospital experience that could however stand improvement was the food. Meals were cheerfully dispensed by staff who were as kind and attentive as any of their colleagues, but the content of the plates which they had to deliver to the patients were – more often than not – anything but cheering.

In particular, I was generally presented with vegetables which had been subject to treatment the punishment for which ought in all fairness to have been a custodial sentence. Someone somewhere must be responsible for the decision to boil some hapless beans to death before sending them on a long journey at the end of which they will be microwaved just to make sure that they can do no one any possible good – and someone else must have let a contract to this vegi-sadist.

Since my current recuperation involves an awful lot of sitting around watching telly I noted with interest today’s news about the Government’s attempt to enlist celebrity assistance to improve hospital food. I am not sure that sort of headline-grabbing is really what is needed – and have read with much more interest about the work of the Soil Association in campaigning to improve hospital food. It is quite obvious that we ought to want to ensure that patients in hospitals (and, for that matter, staff and visitors) are offered nutritious food which they will want to eat.

However, this isn’t just a matter of public health. Catering provision for major public service institutions, such as hospitals – which are described as “anchor institutions” by the Centre for Local Economic Studies because they are “anchored” in local economies – can be organised in ways which generate and sustain wealth in the communities which they serve.

This month, the Health Foundation has published a major report on the role of the NHS as an anchor institution – showing just how much more the NHS could be doing to support local economies (and therefore the health and wellbeing of local people). Locally this approach doesn’t only chime with the Council’s economic strategy – it can also contribute to our goal of becoming a zero-carbon City.

Locally sourced ingredients won’t clock up “food miles”, and if they are prepared locally be local people employed on decent pay and conditions (and represented by trade unions) then the public money which goes to feed hospital patients will also be recycled in the local economy by staff spending their wages in the City.

And, with a bit of luck, a day will come when no further crimes of violence will be perpetrated against leguminous vegetables at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

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