Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cookery School has said she would be willing to get involved in the HSE's attempts to improve hospital food if she felt she could make a difference.
Speaking at a debate on hospital food at the Grow Festival in Waterford at the weekend, the popular chef, author and broadcaster called for a change in the way hospitals buy the raw materials for their patients' and employees' meals.
“There are many, many challenges, particularly in the huge hospitals, to get out a vast quantity of food for all ages and all situations and so on,” Ms Allen said.
“One of the areas that I think has been looked at in other countries and changed and possibly urgently needs to be looked at in this country is the procurement system.”
Donal O’Shea of St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin said “proper nutrition” can enhance a patient’s recovery and shorten their stay in hospital and told the debate in the GIY tent that the HSE has appointed a national nutritional adviser and is aiming to achieve consistency of quality when it comes to hospital food.
Prof O’Shea, one of the country’s leading experts on obesity and diabetes, said it was “completely mad” that we are still using the calorie system, “something that was worked out a gazillion years ago,” as a way of measuring nutrition and food quality.
On the positive side, he said that surveys of hospital patients in Ireland found 80-85 per cent satisfaction with the quality of food.
“This is about, ‘can we make it a whole lot better and can we make it contribute to their recovery’? I think we can. The HSE want to make it an urgent policy.”
Ms Allen said there are some health institutions in Ireland which are managing their food well, but added she would like to see this country following the lead of other countries she has studied.
“The thing that seems to really, really help is if there’s a bit of freedom to procure at least some of your food locally, that you can buy your vegetables, your meat, your milk, your butter, etc etc, from local suppliers.”
This, she said, helps with traceability and to promote cooking from scratch.
“Always there’s a real worry that it’s going to cost more but in all of the models that I’ve looked at, and much to the surprise very often of the catering manager whose responsibility it is to come in under budget, they’ve actually found that there wasn’t an increase in cost.”
Asked by debate moderator Ella McSweeney if she would be willing to get involved “at a higher level,” Ms Allen replied: “I absolutely would, if I thought I could make a difference.”
The Grow Festival was held by the Grow it Yourself organisation, alongside the Waterford Harvest Festival over the weekend, and both led to the city centre being dotted with food tents and stalls hosting markets, workshops, talks and demonstrations.