By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario - A British advocate for better hospital food visited the Cornwall Community Hospital Thursday to help the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) start a food revolution across the province.
Alex Jackson, a member of the United Kingdom-based coalition Sustain and coordinator of its 'Campaign for Better Hospital Food,' is trying to change the kind of food patients are being served.
Over 82,000 patient meals a day are wasted in the UK, according to Jackson.
"In England, the quality of our hospital food is awful and has become progressively worse over the last 20 years," said Jackson.
He started the 'Keep Hospitals Cooking' campaign two years ago to call on the British government to set mandatory nutritional standards for patient food.
"Part of the reason why things have got so bad is because they closed our kitchens and we rely on high-priced ready-meals, which are unhealthy and do nothing to support local farmers or the local economy," said Jackson.
OCHU has been following his campaign, and invited Jackson to Ontario to help run a fact-finding awareness tour with its officials across the province.
"It seems that Ontario is halfway down the road that we've gone down in England, and OCHU has become increasingly concerned about the way things have gone in terms of hospital food. They want to get local people to lobby their local hospitals to have fresh food on site and their government to set quality standards," he said.
Kevin Cook, an OCHU representative from Hamilton, Ontario and a former hospital chef, joined Jackson at the front of the city's hospital for a small media conference.
Their combined message: hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and universities should be serving locally grown, healthy food that’s cooked in-house.
"People can send in e-mails to let us know what they think of their hospital food at email@example.com," said Cook. "We've already had one e-mail from a hospital patient in North Bay that said she didn't eat for three days because the food wasn't even suitable for a dog."
He says each day in Ontario thousands of hospital patients’ meals are left uneaten and wind-up in the trash.
"We've been told, not all, but some of the food at Cornwall's hospital is coming in frozen," said Cook.
The hospital was not advised that the event was taking place. A media relations officer from the hospital approached the unannounced media conference, but was unable to make any comment since he felt blindsided by the incident.
However, Cook noted that the tour which spanned a dozen cities, starting 10 days earlier and ending at its next stop in Belleville, had been publicized by OCHU and the media.
Jackson and Cook agreed that government funding is the root of the problem, and expressed an understanding that the hospital is at times forced to gravitate towards the demands of a budget.
In the aforementioned OCHU media statement, vice president Louis Rodrigues said that provincial policies encourage the contracting out of food and dietary programs to factory food operations, when patients would benefit most from nutritious fresh local food, cooked in the hospital kitchen.