As It Happens

'Yellow puck of sadness' Ottawa woman's scathing complaint about hospital eggs

Gillian Wallace has a lot of experience with hospital food, as a patient and a patient advocate. And she was sick of what she was seeing on the tray tables. So she wrote to the Ottawa Hospital's CEO, and challenged him to try the food for himself.
A friend of Gillian Wallace snapped this photo of a recent breakfast at the Ottawa Hospital. She described this serving of eggs as a "yellow puck of sadness." (JENNIFER LAFAVE)

Gillian Wallace is very familiar with the breakfast eggs at the Ottawa Hospital. Fluffy, creamy or edible are not words she would use to describe them.

Wallace prefers "yellow puck of sadness." She's eaten them atop a tray table as a patient, and is currently a volunteer patient advocate for seniors and refugees.

Gillian Wallace has been a patient at the Ottawa Hospital and is now a volunteer patient advocate. She recently complained to hospital staff about its "appalling" food. (GILLIAN WALLACE)

"They shape it like [a puck] so they can put it on toast or the plate more easily. It's dreadful," she tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "It doesn't taste like eggs. It tastes somewhere between Styrofoam and cardboard — not that I've tasted either of those, but that's my imagination."

Recently, Wallace complained about these eggs to the hospital's CEO Jack Kitts, in an email.

"The food in the Ottawa Hospital network is appalling. It is neither nutritious nor tasty," she wrote. 

It isn't just the eggs, Wallace says. 

"There's the Salisbury steak, which comes with a pool of brown liquid, technically called gravy but really doesn't taste like it has ever met any food substance. There's Chicken à la King — sort of a white soggy mess," she says.

In her email to Kitts, Wallace challenged senior staff at the Ottawa Hospital to eat nothing but the food they serve to patients for a week straight. Much to Wallace's surprise, the hospital responded to say they had recently conducted this  exact experiment.

After eating the meals, some hospital staff concluded that the food was, indeed, exceptionally bland. Kevin Peters, director of Food Services, told the Ottawa Citizen the hospital has agreed to tweak the menu by adding items like quinoa dishes, fresh sandwiches, and so-called "ethnic" foods.

But Wallace isn't totally convinced.

"I am skeptical. In the [email] I got back, they say things like,' We have been working to change ... We are partnering with vendors.' At no point do they say, 'You're right. Sick patients need fresh food."

Wallace says that sick patients, more than anyone, need food that is nutritious and fresh. And it's not an impossible task to carry out: Wallace cites Toronto chef Joshna Maharaj, who recently revolutionized the food choices at a Scarborough hospital as the head chef.

Toronto-based chef and activist Joshna Maharaj. (Supplied)

The Ottawa Hospital says it is confident that its menu items carry "nutritional value [that] meets the recommended requirements." But Wallace says that's not the point.

"Some people have said, '[fresh food] is a luxury, you're not in a hotel.' And the answer is, no. If you want people to recuperate from major surgery or illness, their bodies need extra nutrition. Not just the daily recommended allowance."


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