“Three rashers, three sausages, two eggs, black pudding twice, fried bread twice and no tomatoes,” boomed the voice in front of me in the queue. “Oh, and two rounds of toast and a large mug of coffee.”
“Beans?” responded the unsmiling automaton in the white overall, a woman with no facial expression whatsoever.
“Goodness no, I’ll have wind all day if I do,” came the reply.
Wind is the least of your worries, I thought, as I watched the layers of cholesterol being piled onto a very large plate. I like a cooked breakfast as much as the next person (albeit the vegetarian variety) when I am on holiday, but I know enough about healthy eating to ensure that for most of the year, fresh fruit and muesli is the healthiest way to start my day at home.
“Yes?” snapped the automaton, looking vaguely in my direction.
“Do you have any fresh fruit, apples or bananas maybe?” I enquired hopefully.
“Bananas, no, but you may find some apples in the basket by the till. They may be a bit old though, there’s not a lot of call for them in here. I may have got some tinned fruit in the back.”
I turned and looked at the two forlorn apples in the basket by the till and decided to give them a miss.
“No, I’ll leave that. Just two slices of toast please.”
“Do you want them spreading?”
After having seen the thick layer of butter spread upon the previous customer’s toast, I declined.
“Do you have some vegetable margarine?”
“Over by the till, but that costs extra.”
“Just the toast then, please. No butter.”
Whilst I was waiting for the toast, I attempted some conversation. I was curious to know the reasoning behind the massively unhealthy diet being served in the hospital’s canteen for visitors. As with so many hospital facilities in the UK nowadays, the hospital restaurant had been privatised, and I was amused to see it being run by the same company that is involved in school inspections, as well as refuse collections in the UK.
The hospital restaurant was in one of the UK’s large city hospitals and I had been visiting an elderly relative in its care. As is often the case with sick, elderly patients, they can only cope with short visits and so I decided to take a short coffee break before returning to the ward.
“Don't you think it is a little strange that you are serving such unhealthy food in a hospital restaurant?”
“I just does what I’m told. They decides what’s to be served,” was the snapped response, although now, at least, the face showed some expression and feeling, which was an encouraging development.
“Yes, I can see that, and I’m not blaming you,” I protested, “but you are killing your customers. Maybe your previous customer could have been offered a healthier alternative? Surely it’s a good opportunity to encourage visitors to consider healthy eating when they visit patients. Maybe some fruit? With a diet like that he’ll soon be in here as a patient.”
The woman snorted. “He’s no visitor,” she laughed. “He has that for breakfast most days, and he’s a doctor here!”
I ate my toast slowly, with a mixture of disbelief, anger and amusement, but wondering if my elderly relative was receiving the most enlightened care in that hospital after all.
From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney
Expat Survival : ISBN 978-0992767167