Bias in food reviews (and thoughts on hospital food)

3 Jun

There is a common complaint that hospital food tastes like nothing. I’d argue that it *does* taste like something, it’s just that the ambience, and any of the drugs that the patient might be on, kills the taste.

The woman who taught me about the joy of food and the joy of cooking has been sitting in a hospital bed for the past three weeks. She’s notoriously picky and not one to shy away from criticizing everything about food, be it homemade, be it in a restaurant, this woman doesn’t care about your feelings, only about what she is eating. (maybe she is actually related to clementineyyz?!)

She once made me homemade chocolate fudge just because I asked if she knew how. When I was a kid growing up in Scarborough, a long drive from my parents’ native Montreal, she would show up with enough food to fill our freezer. Pies, tortières (when seasonally appropriate), split-pea soup, spaghetti sauce, cookies, nanaimo bars… and then she would go into the kitchen and loudly take over, or assist to the point of taking over. Cooking and baking came easily to her, it never seemed to make her nervous, it was just something that she did, and did well. This was in contrast to my mother, who was, and still is, a very good cook, but a nervous one. It was something that she’s obviously worked hard at. My grandmother exuded a calming confidence in the kitchen that I’ve rarely seen since.

But, one day soon after my grandfather died she announced that she had had enough and wasn’t going to cook anymore. And so, she hasn’t cooked for more than 15 years. She said she’d cooked enough for her life time and that she was done. I miss her cooking, but I have always loved her for much more that just her cooking. She’s 91 now.

Until three weeks ago, our small family would make fun of her age and say she was stronger than a horse. No major health problems, but definite potential to be cranky and demanding as the best of the nonagenarian set. Yet she remained who she had always been: stylish and sassy.

Being in the hospital for that long has robbed her of many things: her extensive wardrobe, her daily beer, her ability to draw on her eyebrows… and her appetite. I try and go in around dinner time and coax her to eat the food. I’ve even done taste tests for her to show her how much it doesn’t suck. But she insists that everything is too bitter or tasteless. After I go home after a visit, it is as if my taste buds stayed behind in the hospital.

This got me thinking about how we all experience food and what it represents to each of us. Our relationships with food are always intrinsically linked to our families and what eat ate, and how. My grandmother’s food will always hold the bar for the best of everything I’ve ever eaten, not only because she was such a gifted cook, but because her food made me feel special. She never forgot what my favourite dishes and sweets were. My mother inherited this gift: remembering what her children love to eat and trying to make them feel that when she feeds us.

I now reserve most Fridays for a family meal. After a long week, everyone is relaxed and hungry. The Friday meals are rarely rushed. They are cherished. Good wine, excellent food (but always very healthy), even a dessert!* And it allows me to continue to be a child: I eat my best meal of the week wearing sweat pants and with minimal involvement as my parents are still convinced that I will somehow ruin their kitchen.

In or out of the hospital, food is more than the fuel that it provides. It is more than the exclusive ingredients that the chef may use. It is more than any chef or cook  at all. It’s where you eat it, with whom, when, how you are made to feel at that moment.
But either way, if anyone has a good idea of how to make a “despondent” (her word, not mine!) 91 year old eat a full meal, I am all ears!

*Note: I don’t drink during the week unless I am out at an event. I also try and abstain from dessert unless it is for something special. I fear my last name would be taken away if I ever stopped being health conscious.

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One Response to “Bias in food reviews (and thoughts on hospital food)”

  1. clementineyyz June 4, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    I aspire to have your grandmother’s fire! #grumpygourmandes

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