The Sunday Magazine

Chef Joshna Maharaj believes institutional food could be tasty and nourishing

Toronto chef and food activist Joshna Maharaj believes that institutions such as hospitals, prisons and long term care facilities too often rely on “Weekend at Bernie's”-style cooking: propping up dead meals with cornstarch. She is on a mission to change all that.

Why hospital food is so bad and how we can make it better

Joshna Maharaj's book Take Back the Tray: Revolutionising Food in Hospitals, Schools and Institutions is a call-to-arms for chefs and administrators alike. (@joshnamaharaj/Twitter.com, ECW Press)

Is there anything more unappetizing than hospital food? The very mention of it conjures images of Jello cups, limp lettuce and soggy sandwiches. Nothing to make your mouth water in anticipation and nothing to nourish the body or spirit.

"The reason this food is so bad is because nobody with any real power cares enough to make it any better," said Toronto chef and food activist Joshna Maharaj, speaking with The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright.

"There's a hospitality disaster happening here," explained Maharaj. "Every tray of bad food tells a patient that the restoration of their health is not worth any more effort than that."

Maharaj believes that institutions such as hospitals, prisons and long-term-care facilities too often rely on "Weekend at Bernie's"-style cooking: propping up dead meals with cornstarch.

Joshna Maharaj believes hospitals, prisons and long-term-care facilities can prepare nutritious, tasty meals without breaking the bank. (Supplied)

Maharaj is on a mission to change all that. Her new book, Take Back the Tray Revolutionising Food in Hospitals, Schools and Institutions is a call-to-arms for chefs and administrators alike.

"We need scratch cooking onsite and I really believe that we need chefs in these spaces," explained Maharaj. "The big argument in my book is the fact that chefs are the people that need to do this job because we can figure this out."

And Maharaj believes that we don't need to break the bank to achieve that.

"In February, we went to a hospital and cooked an entire meal from scratch for all the regular patients: all local, all scratch," she said. "When I crunched the numbers on how much we spent on food ingredients, we only spent an extra 33 cents per person for an exponentially better meal."

For Maharaj, good food is much more than a luxury. It is a fundamental right and essential to the dignity and well-being of the people institutions are supposed to serve.

"We chefs can figure out ways to work within budgets, produce really good food and still make it delicious and joyful for people," said Maharaj. "I really want joy and pleasure to return to institutional food."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full conversation.

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