Hospital food was dissected and debated in the wake of an article that revealed cutbacks were proposed for this institutional nourishment. It said: "nutrition experts had warned a government cost-cutting team that patients could suffer malnutrition under plans for cheaper hospital food." Such plans "would reduce the amount of protein in meals, cut back on hot food ... and use lesser-quality ingredients" - all of which is a bit of a concern because some of the existing food doesn't look all that flash.

Photographs accompanying the article showed that the quality of hospital meals can vary markedly. One shot pictured an unappetising red pasta dish and an unidentifiable grey soup. Another showed an unappealing crumbed fish with mashed potato. But the roast meal in the third shot with colourful vegetables and a generous dollop of gravy looked positively delicious in comparison. It's a worry if the proposed cost-cutting means meals will have more in common with the first two shots than the last one.

One talkback radio caller wondered why hospitals even needed to feed people. The reasoning was that patients are at a state hospital to receive free healthcare: why should they also get free meals? It was an interesting idea. Obviously anyone who is unable to arrange their own meals or anyone who is already dependent on the state for life's necessities should continue to be supplied with meals in hospital. But the people with the means to continue to take responsibility for their own nutritional requirements should be encouraged to do so. They could have meals delivered by loved ones or by boutique businesses that would spring up in the presence of such demand.

On the surface it seems like a workable suggestion. Those who need sustenance via the state get it. Those with the means (and desire) to access alternatives are free to do so.


And just think of the cost savings involved if the number of state-supplied meals was dramatically reduced. Talk about governmental budget slashing.

But closer inspection and a little more imagination reveal the pitfalls inherent in such a scheme. Logistically the two groups of people would need to be separated for ease of distribution of the government-provided food. This ostensibly sensible segregation would lead to cries of inequality. One group of people would be eating mashed spud and runny jelly in one section of the ward. The others would be feasting on whatever takes their fancy in another section.

Media reports would focus on favouritism and elitism - and those receiving meals courtesy of that nice Mr Key would be critical of the two-tiered system. Similar divisions might be accepted on international flights on our national airline but they would be unpalatable in state-funded hospitals on New Zealand soil. It's simply not the Kiwi way.

Photo / Thinkstock

Oh well. That was a promising idea, Caller, but it won't fly.

Still, when it comes to hospital food everyone has an opinion. My three experiences of food in hospitals date back to 2003 when I discovered that if you take a tour of National Women's hospital at 6pm while eight-months pregnant, several other people on the tour will be munching KFC as they walk. However, the tea and toast I was served the next month at the same hospital following a C-section (and about 40 consecutive hours of not eating) still rates in my top ten most memorable meals of all time.

I subsequently transferred to Birthcare maternity hospital in Parnell where my abiding memory is that the women who delivered the meals were exceptionally noisy. We called them "commando raiders" but, upon reflection, that was a misnomer, implying as it does that a degree of stealth was associated with their manoeuvrings. They would barge into the room with all the finesse of stampeding elephants playing the cymbals. They were guaranteed to wake up any slumbering mother or newborn in the vicinity. The food was pretty good though.

What's your opinion of hospital food?