Tara's Food Notebook

Still with the "Hospital Food" Cliches? Really?

I hesistate to criticize working journalists, especially those at local newspapers. That's where I got my start and I know the reporters there are writing multiple stories each day, covering the local school board and tracking down such things as police standoffs, car accidents, fires and the occasional 4-H livestock project at the county fair (at least that's what I was doing). Oftentimes, reporters must write about topics that they didn't even know existed that morning when they walked into the newsroom.

That's why it pains me to say it: I think the mainstream media could do a lot better when writing about hospital foodservice. Since we're a national magazine, a lot of the leads we follow up on come from local news organizations. More often than not, stories focused on the foodservice of a healthcare system will start out something like this: "When you think of hospital food, you sure don't think of anything good!" And then into the story, where—surprise—they find food that's not only really good, it's on-trend and healthy, too. 

The reason this bothers me is not because I think hospital foodservice pros are thin skinned. On the contrary, a lot of times, funding is directly tied to patient satisfaction scores. They're used to getting feedback. But when the media perpetuates the myth that hospital food's starting point is "dismal," it's harmful to the whole industry. 

And it's just plain inaccurate. As a journalist, that's one of the things I use to guide what I'm about to write: Is it true? And with places like Rex Health in North Carolina constantly upping its own game with such training programs as the Black Hat Chefs (just featured by Conde Nast Traveler), and competing in serious cooking competitions (and beating local restaurant chefs), saying that hospital food is, as a rule, boring or bland or barely edible just isn't true.

As healthcare foodservice directors and chefs are stepping up and looking to achieve excellence, it just seems kind of lazy on the journalists' part to fall back on tired old cliches that we've all heard too many times. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever opened the paper and been disappointed to see how they framed your story? What's a good way to deal with it? 

 

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