Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The "food fascists" have won at Toronto's Sick Children's hospital?

An article in yesterday's Globe and Mail detailed how the Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children has decided not to renew Burger King's lease.

Sadly the move is rather meaningless given the hospital still happily houses Pizza Pizza, Subway and Tim Horton's franchises, and having worked at Sick Kid's when I was a resident, it's not as if their cafeteria doesn't serve equally unhealthy fare.

But meaningless or not, it's a step in the right direction as hospitals should not be thought of as profit centres, and bigger pictures need to be taken into account.

While many commentators on the Globe and Mail's articles raged on about how the "food fascists", or the, "modern Puritans" have won I can't help but wonder if they think things through.

While indeed it's true that sick children's spirits can be uplifted by less than healthy foods, it's certainly not as if junk food can't be purchased elsewhere and brought in. Hospitals selling unhealthy foods and promoting unhealthy brands and lifestyle practices are anathema to the concept of a hospital as a vanguard of health. Also important to consider, in our single payer health care system, the sale of unhealthy foods, however profitable, are ultimately bad for business. It's bad for business both by means of the hospital further normalizing the purchase and consumption of nutritional garbage for children, and it's bad for business in that while the children are hopefully only going to be there for days at a time, the staff spend their lifetimes walking those halls and eating that food.

Hospital food has a long way to go before it can rightly serve as an example to which other institutions strive. That said, here's hoping we puritanical food fascists notch more and larger victories on our bedposts - these symbolic ones, while nice, don't make a whole heck of a lot of difference.

(Apropos image of a shuttered Burger King inside Toronto's Sick Kids' hospital from the Consumer Complaints blog)

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  1. Shannon6:24 am

    I had never encountered a hospital having any sort of food outlets in it until I moved to the UK. Originally from the US and can't say I've experienced more than a few hospitals there, all I ever came across were standard hospital canteens and a standard gift shop selling flowers, balloons and cards. Here in the UK there are all manner of fast food options and a shop or two selling the same stuff you'd find in a petrol station convenience store. Is this down to the differences between private healthcare and government supported healthcare like the NHS?

  2. Anonymous7:31 am

    Kind of like pharmacies selling tobacco products isn't it? We banned that, hopefully it is just a matter of time before this one catches up!

  3. Anonymous9:10 am

    I hate to say this but some of the biggest people I know in Toronto are medical staff. As someone who visited her nephew at Sick Kids, and who now visits her specialists in another TO hospital, I see a lot of nurses and aides in scrubs, and they all look large. Bigger than me even! I feel skinny when I go in for my yearly biopsy. Heh. But, it should be mentioned that just outside of the Sick Kids doors, there are all kinds of restaurants - most ethnic but I'm sure all over done in the salt and fat department which only negates the healthy ingredients their menu sports. And the coffee shops are a dime a dozen, all sporting $4 lattes. At some point, too much cream and milk adds up, right? Anyway... When your loved ones are in a bed, last thing you tend to worry about is your own health... ironically enough.


  4. Anonymous11:32 am

    Where will our young women with Masters degree work now? Where will the young single mothers with undergrad degree tuition raise money to pay for their children's school fees? Where will seniors who can't manage the rent on their rabbit warren apartment AND their medication work now?

  5. motera1:02 pm

    Small but important step. Hospitals are in the HEALTH business. The least they should do is promote healthy food choices by making them available. Also, they should prominently display the analysis (protein , fat, carbs, sodium etc) of every item they sell. They could be leaders in healthy, tasty, and still 'fast' food. This should not be a 'profit' centre so much as a research lab how to make the cafeteria experience a positive one in promotive good health.

  6. It might be true that children's spirits are lifted by less than healthy foods....but it might also be true that spirits can be lifted by well-prepared healthy ones too. Shouldn't the health care system be leading by example?

    And by what definition is it fascist to expect the food in hospitals to promote health? Though I suppose hyperbole sells papers.