NHS Food

One interesting thing I’ve had over the past 2 weeks is my closest ever experience with Britain’s NHS, and in particular with its food, which I’ve been eating every day.

And there was something that struck me as very interesting about it. In a time when people are eating more and more different food, NHS food (in my hospital at least) was all plain, simple, conservative English food.

You were given a choice… but only a choice of plain, simple, conservative English food.

For breakfast you could have porridge or one of several cereals (e.g. corn flakes and milk). And you could also have a couple of slices of toast with butter and marmalade. And you could have a mug of tea or coffee (plus sugar) or hot chocolate.

Lunch was similar but included soups and simple meat stews with mashed potatoes and green beans and carrots. About the only thing that was missing was bacon, and fried egg (I asked for this but was refused), and pastry.

After a while I realised that it was what we ate back in the 1950s. There was no pizza back then. Nor pasta. Nothing vegetarian either. I wasn’t even asked if I was on a diet.

It wasn’t my mother’s home cooking: she was a rather adventurous cook. Nor was it anything like a Full English Breakfast, which is a great and glorious thing.

But it reminds me that when smoking was banned in 2007, one of my responses was to go go back to eating food I’d hardly touched in 50 years (like lamb chops). And in doing so I saw myself as re-assertng my English values. And maybe that’s how values survive: people quietly dig in and keep doing what they’ve always done. Conservatism doesn’t seek to transform values: it seeks to preserve them.

So NHS hospitals remain creatures of the 1950s, when they were first created. 1950s values are built into the NHS. So while other ideologues inveigh against sugar and butter and marmalade and meat, the NHS just keeps serving it up. It hasn’t changed in 70 years. The NHS is a conservative institution, cooking conservative food. And in in a time of mounting dietary radicalism, that’s a very good thing.

And maybe that’s one explanation for why the NHS is so beloved by us Brits: it’s a cultural constant, a bit like the Royal Family. And as long as you can get toast and butter and marmalade in an English hospital, all will be right with the world.

And I was delighted by it. On my last day in hospital, I ate every scrap of my NHS lunch, because I thought I’d never get another one like it. It wasn’t particularly tasty: 1950s English food never was. But it was good, dependable, unpretentious food. And probably it survived along with other good, dependable, unpretentious traits, which together amounted to a statement of a set of values that had been unchallenged for something like a century.

I’m not “clapping for carers”:  (a very unEnglish thing to do). I’m simply recognising that the NHS is one English cultural institution that has retained some important values intact for approaching a century, making it something of a cultural bastion in a stormy time, when cultural values of every kind are under attack. And for that I’m grateful.

About Frank Davis

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22 Responses to NHS Food

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Lovely post Frank! Welcome back,

  2. Fumo ergo sum says:

    Indeed, welcome back. I am glad to see/read that you are in good health. Did you receive any proper explanation as to why you were refused a decent plate of bacon and fried egg?

  3. Jim says:

    Sorry, but my mother was a nurse in the 1950s, she trained at St Thomas’s hospital in London. She has nothing for contempt for what the NHS has become, compared to what it was in her day. If the NHS was in any way true to its 1950s principles it wouldn’t be the crock of sh*t it is today.

  4. Doonhamer says:

    Spike Milligoon joke.
    How do you start a pudding race?

    Can you still get it? That and semolina?

  5. Steven simon says:

    Welcome back frank.
    My favourite meal
    Heinz tomato soup.
    Main course Heinz baked beans or fray bentos steak and kidney pie.
    Followed by a mug of Yorkshire tea and a few fags.

  6. slugbop007 says:

    This from The Who, not The W.H.O.


    • RdM says:

      Ha! I had that album years ago in the ’70s, lost now.

      You ask for more music?

      How about this, from a Canadian band I dearly love, in parts;-

      I have a few early LPs of theirs, not sure if that is on them, but also an “EP” CD, Cowboy Junkies Live! with 4 tracks, the 4th Sweet Jane, preceded by 3rd “Hot Burrito No. 1.”
      Gram Parsons guesting on that, I think.

      Well, just a friendly gesture, note.
      I’ve missed out on attending the SDB for weeks now, but maybe will see you there!

  7. slugbop007 says:

    More music, more music


  8. Yvonne says:

    Great to hear you are on the mend Frank.
    I have been trying to persuade mother-in-law to get the frozen ready meals advertised for older people but she’s stubborn. The variety offered include, what I call, traditional English offerings. I suspect she isn’t cooking properly since her husband of 65 years had gone into care and February. We do what we can providing extras.
    The lockdown has been incredibly cruel to the elderly. That a couple can be separated with no visitation after a lifetime is beyond comprehension. Add deprevation of fresh air and sunlight to the equation, prisoners are treated better.

  9. Clicky says:

  10. Walt Cody says:

    I can’t help but remain concerned since “heart failure” ain’t chicken pox. Don’t answer if you feel this is too intrusive but…what did they do about it while you were there? What follow-up is there (aside from their undoubtedly telling you to never smoke again).?

  11. beobrigitte says:

    I’m glad to hear you have been discharged and are feeling better!

    I wouldn’t like any medical details of mine plastered all over the internet
    Absolutely agree.
    Here I have to add that in the 1970s I worked as a nurse and we had an awful lot of patients in their 60s and 70s diagnosed with “Herzinsuffizienz” (heart failure is a way too dramatic term, so we settled for “heart working insufficiently”) of whom a lot were female and heavily indoctrinated by Hitlers: “Die deutsche Frau raucht nicht!”

    I’m not “clapping for carers”: (a very unEnglish thing to do). I’m simply recognising that the NHS is one English cultural institution that has retained some important values intact for approaching a century, making it something of a cultural bastion in a stormy time, when cultural values of every kind are under attack. And for that I’m grateful.
    I am glad to hear the medical staff acted in a professional manner. Nurses recently have been told by the current government that they are “low skilled” workers and my english friends did not take kindly to this.
    “What can you expect from tories who voted for the refusal of a wage rise for nurses and then applauded when they won?”
    Trust me, I wanted this to be true. However:
    The nurses only lost out, but not as much as is being projected.

    You were given a choice… but only a choice of plain, simple, conservative English food.
    I am a little surprised! Until my retirement all the old english foods were also on the menu, but perhaps the number of choices available confused people. On my stay in hospital in 2007 for a torn ligament op I chose english breakfast, italian lunch and salad for the evening. None was perfect but if you are well enough to moan about food you are well enough to go home. (I did point this out to the medic who thought I should stay another day….)


    • Rose says:

      They were busy sabotaging hospital catering in 2017 when my Mum was in, so things have probably got a lot duller since then.

      Creating a healthier food and drink environment across the public sector
      Rachel Manners, Nutrition Advice Team Leader, PHESeptember 2018

      Click to access 13.00-Health-by-stealth-in-hospitals.pdf

      • RdM says:

        In Auckland NZ, along with other NZ District Health Boards, they swore off sugary drinks & etc. some time ago:

        The NZ global activist namesake named here had this to say:

        Dr Beaglehole has described sugar as “the new tobacco”.

        “It is dangerous, addictive and toxic and cannot be controlled alone by trying to educate the public.”

        New Zealanders’ consumption of sugar was one of the highest in the Western world, averaging 56 kilograms per person per year, the equivalent of 40 teaspoons of sugar a day, he said.


        Elsewhere at the time, this as well:


        Diet soft drinks, juices, flavoured water and smoothies will be removed from the shelves and hospital menus at Nelson and Wairau Hospitals in a move that is believed to be the first of its kind in New Zealand.

        The crackdown on sugary drinks will see patients and visitors to Wairau Hospital, in Blenheim, choose between milk, water, tea and coffee.

        An existing Nelson Marlborough District Health Board policy preventing the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages was extended to cover artificially-sweetened beverages, flavoured water, smoothies and juices at a health board meeting in Nelson on Tuesday.

        Those drinks would no longer be served to patients or sold from cafes, shops and vending machines at Wairau Hospital and Nelson Hospital from May 1.

        READ MORE:
        * DHBs follow Nelson’s lead on sugar ban
        * Fighting the fizz: last DHBs to put blanket ban on soft drinks
        * Health board targets diet soft drinks

        Nelson Marlborough was the first health board in New Zealand to introduce limits on sugary drinks.

        The updated policy means no pre-packaged drinks containing sugar will be available on health board sites.

        Nelson Marlborough District Health Board principal dental officer Dr Rob Beaglehole said, to the best of his knowledge, Nelson Marlborough was the only health board in New Zealand to ban artificially-sweetened beverages, as well as juices and smoothies.

        “It’s exciting because once again Nelson Marlborough District Health Board is leading the way.

        “We’d like to see other district health health boards following suit.”

        The policy was about being a good role model and showing leadership as a health board, Beaglehole said.

        “It might seem quite radical but the same thing was said two years ago when we got rid of sugar-sweetened beverages.

        “Overwhelmingly the response has been positive.”

        The board originally moved to ban sugar-sweetened beverages in 2014 to recognise their effect on oral health, and their role in obesity and type 2 diabetes.

        However, Beaglehole said artificially-sweetened beverages, smoothies and juices also had a detrimental effect on teeth and general health.

        One small smoothie Beaglehole found in the cafe at Nelson Hospital had 14 teaspoons of sugar.

        The World Health Organisation recommended adults had no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day, while children should have no more than three.

        “A lot of people don’t understand that these products are so sugar-laden.

        “If a child had one of those smoothies with 14 teaspoons of sugar that’s almost five days of sugar in one hit.”

        Artificially-sweetened beverages, smoothies and juices encouraged sugar cravings, and sugar dependence, he said.

        High levels of acidity in the drinks caused dental erosion.

        Diet drinks had no nutritional value and displaced healthier drink choices, including milk and water.

        There was also emerging evidence that artificially-sweetened beverages could cause weight gain, Beaglehole said.

        A study that followed 3600 people for seven years found those who drank diet soft drinks had a 50 per cent higher increase in their body mass index than those who did not.

        People were still able to bring sugary beverages into the hospital and sugar would still be available at the cafes for those wanting to add it to their tea or coffee.

        “The policy doesn’t ban drinking sweet drinks, it only prevents people from buying them at the hospital,” Beaglehole said.

        “As a hospital we don’t believe we should be selling sickness.”

        That is about what’s available at internal hospital cafes rather than patient diet.

        It’s over 5 years since I spent an overnight in hospital, in retrospect more likely a panic attack than heart, which tested out fine the next morning, but I was even then glad to go home and have a glass of wine and a meal I made myself that I really enjoyed,

        I’ve not been interested in “sugary drinks” since mid teenage years, anyway.

        50 odd years ago.

        Although I do buy pure pineapple juice, although I take 2-3 weeks to get through same in litres. You only need a little. I think it may assist in digestion of protein, & is a treat.

  12. Joe L. says:

    So NHS hospitals remain creatures of the 1950s, when they were first created.

    Except they no longer allow smoking–anywhere on the property. It’s interesting that NHS hasn’t followed along with any of the trendy Healthist diets (vegetarian, vegan, etc.). It really reinforces the fact that they’re all a bunch of bullshit. Medical professionals (i.e., not paid ideological “experts”) still believe that what was “good for you” in the 1950’s is still “good for you” today … except for cigarettes.

    I believe that it comes down to the idea that preventing one from smoking has no immediate detrimental effects on one’s health (however, since the recent COVID-19 studies have come to light, this should now be questioned), whereas depriving someone of proper nutrition will cause a rapid, noticeable decline in their health. Therefore, NHS officials have accepted the bribes funding from the WHO, et al. in exchange for banning smoking (plus it allows them to cut costs by skimping on proper ventilation), but they cannot be bought out to do the same with food, lest they be sued out of existence. Otherwise I believe they would have by now.

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