Food for recovery provides food for thought

Posted by Maggie on 07/07/17 in Articles, Life After Retirement, VfL News and Events

Two weeks ago, VfL was contacted by long-standing vegetarian and celebrated vegetarian chef, Pamela Brown. Unfortunately, Pamela had taken a bad fall and broken her pelvis, so was taken to hospital.

Pamela had a comfortable stay in hospital but, when placed in a rehabilitation centre afterwards, she found the standards of food below her expectations and of quite low quality. She contacted us in the hope that we could assist.

At the age of 21, Pamela felt she could no longer harm animals for her own consumption and switched to a vegetarian diet. But she has experienced a lot of highs and lows when it comes to her choice to not eat animals.

In the 1940s, her only options seemed to be eggs, and macaroni cheese. This often came with bacon, which she’d have to remove herself.

Then in the 70s, Pamela starred on Granada TV, helping create to a fully vegetarian menu for local villagers. She reports that because of this, the country ran out of Sos mix, which she had used on the programme!

Pamela and her family enjoy eating out and have never found it easier, so she was upset and surprised by what was on offer when in the rehabilitation centre.

As with anyone young or old, making sure that patients are fed well in a time of recovery helps them to heal. Being presented dreary, unimaginative dishes could put anyone off their food and cause upset.

Pamela found herself isolated and often hungry at meal times, being the only vegetarian in the centre. Her food options were limited and at times did not allow her any choice, unlike the meat-eating residents.

Breakfasts were Pamela’s favourite meal of the day, consisting of porridge and prunes, but lunch and dinner times were problematic. Each day lunch was a cold sandwich with cheese, which came with no salad or vegetables. The evening menu was not much better. 

To make life easier, Pamela requested a simple meal of jacket potato and beans, but because of spending limits of £3 per resident per day, their pantry did not stock the items needed.

Another time, Pamela was offered risotto by a nurse. Because of miscommunication and a strict system in the kitchen, this turned out to be impossible, again because the items needed were unavailable.

In any situation, being presented with ‘it’s that or nothing’ can be frustrating and upsetting. Not knowing what food options are available can make residents question the menu and how their food is made.

I spoke with the head chef regarding Pamela’s food options, and was made aware that ordering fresh vegetables for one or two meals is often impossible because of funding issues. Like most hospitals, hospices and centres around the country, menus are limited, and they can often run out of ideas quite quickly. Here, I offered assistance to create weekly meal plans that meat-eaters would also enjoy, and offered money-saving tips to help cut costs but not taste or nutrition. Sometimes having a little input from an outside source can give people the opportunity to gather ideas and create new dishes in an honest and non-judgemental way.

Another issue with institutional catering is that small changes may take months to come into effect, or not happen at all.

Here at VfL, we can’t change the catering system overnight, but we can try to assist in different ways. Through Pamela contacting us, we were able to intervene and offer advice to the catering staff, and offer help to improve their standards. Their staff are now more knowledgable and have our resources to work from. They also know that if they want assistance with plant-based diets, we’re here to help.

Now that Pamela is at home with carers until her pelvis heals, we also offered her details of veg-friendly meals that could be delivered to her door through many different services throughout the UK, even without the use of the internet. Pamela is not yet fit enough to cook many meals for herself, but there is a wide range of food available for delivery through catering services. Healthy ready-meals can even be purchased from a number of different supermarkets (try Sainsbury’s for telephone orders).

Ordering food online has never been easier, either. With websites such as Ocado, the Vegan Womble (to search product ranges) and mysupermarket you can order meat-free dishes at a click of a button.


How does this compare with your experiences of vegan/vegetarian care catering? We'd love you to share your experiences, good or bad, in the comments below.


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