Gary Tetz

Food. It’s important. I once foolishly tried to go several weeks without any. I almost died and was finally forced to start eating again. Evidence suggests I overcorrected, so it’s definitely a fine line.

I mention this because of something horrifying I saw last week — a steamy platter of alleged “food” being served to an actual living, breathing resident in a long-term care facility. I’m not going to say where it was, or nail a parchment containing the name of the administrator to the State House door.* It’s tempting, but a bit too medieval.

The meal was delivered on a pristine white plate by a perfectly cheerful employee. Concealed as it was under an opaque plastic dome, it held a world of promise. The hungry resident removed the lid with a flourish of anticipation, immediately followed by a look of pure crestfallenness I haven’t seen since the time I badly misfired on a Christmas present for my 4-year old daughter. She ended up running into the street weeping, which I also advised the resident to do.

The contents of this feast were quite literally indescribable — and looked worse than that 3D-printed food those Germans are making. I was able to quickly identify the stale roll and hyper-overcooked peas, but I honestly couldn’t tell what the entree was. I just know it was black and lumpy and scary — probably some sort of pureed mammal — and when I moved my hand over the plate, I felt an odd gravitational pull, like a dangerous and invisible force was sucking me in. As the experts at NASA helpfully admit, “We are much more certain what dark matter is not than we are what it is.” Which is also true about whatever was on that plate.

Looking back on this experience, it’s a real puzzler. Who would intentionally serve a meal like that? Is it because clients are often helpless and captive? Because reimbursement is inadequate? Because families shell-shocked to be navigating a long-term experience at all aren’t going to notice or have the strength to push back? Because making people suffer builds character and they’ll be grateful later?

So here’s the ultimate question I’d like to ask the provider, right after I’ve grabbed a sample tray off the food cart, pushed past the hapless receptionist and confronted him/her with this “dark matter on a plate.” Would you eat it? Feed it to your family? Post a picture of it on Pinterest? Enter it in the Ravishing Recipe contest at the county fair?

If the answer is no, then fix it or get out of this profession. People love to eat more than just about anything else. Give them something decent. Make it special somehow, or at least act like you’re trying. This is a dining room, not a prison, a mess hall or Fear Factor

To be fair, I didn’t taste it. So maybe it was actually delicious and nutritious, and maybe the enlightened operator has simply chosen a Buddhism-based path of non-sensory food presentation designed to free his or her clients of unhealthy attachments to superficial visuals. Or perhaps the most plausible explanation is that this was an intentional feature of the rehab program, designed to motivate rapid progress and spur a quick return home.

If so, I bet it’s working.

*The facility described is not connected in any way with any company or business entity for which I have ever been employed, or would wish to be.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in Humor Writing in the 2014 Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.