No one looks forward to a trip to the hospital. That sinking feeling probably has more to do with an impending surgery, a harsh illness or another medical concern, of course. But hospital food — and its less-than-stellar reputation — doesn’t make the trip any easier.
From wiggling slices of Jell-O to bland bowls of soup, hospital food in the U.S. often does little to delight or inspire any foodie’s palate. And while a lackluster selection of food is widely considered to be part of the healing process, one woman’s hospital experience has opened some eyes to just how bad hospital food can be back home.
Lauren Goeku currently resides in Naha, Okinawa, Japan, with her husband, who hails from the island nation. The couple were expecting a child, a little girl, which meant that Goeku needed to prepare for some time in the hospital. Unfortunately, this likely also meant a food menu to dread.
But, fortunately for her, the Japanese healthcare system turned out to be a much more generous one than those in some other countries. Goeku wrote in a Reddit post that, while her insurance is “not quite free […] the costs are significantly lower than [in] the U.S.”
She went on to write, “I can walk into a brain clinic off the street and get an MRI within an hour for about $50, for example. But prenatal care and aftercare [are] 100% covered.” For many, this type of coverage would be idyllic enough, without considering the other perks that came with her hospital stay.
Goeku’s insurance covered four days of room and board at the hospital, where the nurses helped to care for her newborn while she recovered from labor. “Plus,” she wrote, “[they] give super helpful advice about how to keep the baby alive, which is something I have great interest in doing.”
Of course, the hospital staff were very interested in keeping Goeku alive as well, and nothing proved that point more than the meals they served her while she recovered. Remember the bland, unappetising menus typical of Western hospitals? Those were nowhere to be seen in Goeku’s Japanese experience.
In fact, the trays of food they delivered to Goeku were so beautiful, almost seeming to be gourmet cuisine, that the new mom documented each and every one. Then she posted the images online, thinking they might be interesting to people from other countries. But she never thought she would spark a global conversation about hospital cooking.
Her first plate featured a ketchup-topped omuraisu, which is a classic Japanese omelette stuffed with fried rice. On the side, Goeku had her choice of macaroni salad, chicken soup, fresh fruit and squid rings. A mug of green tea washed it all down.
On another tray, the hospital served the new mom chicken fingers, bitter melon stir-fry, miso soup and rice. They even brushed slices of silken tofu with potato starch and deep fried them for Goeku’s plate of agedashi tofu, a recipe custom to Japan.
A different meal brought Lauren a plate full of mushroom pasta, accompanied by two fluffy bread rolls, a broccoli and bacon salad, chicken soup and potato salad. Of course, the tray wouldn’t be complete without a mug of green tea.
Her last meal was an “Oiwai” or celebration dinner, according to her Imgur post. The hospital served her roast beef, mashed potatoes, camembert cheese with raisins, green tea and kabocha, a Japanese pumpkin that’s often served roasted. She even got a slice of sweet tiramisu for dessert.
Upon seeing these and the rest of the images Goeku posted, many Internet users could not believe the food served in their home country’s hospitals. The first comment on her Imgur post says, “I wanna give birth in Japan. And I am a 60-year-old man…”
Another person wrote this scathing review of American hospital food: “I work in a U.S. hospital and the food we serve our patients is the kind of stuff that most likely landed them there in the first place.”
While most comments lauded the quality of Goeku’s meals – or questioned the quality of their own hospital food – some did have concerns about the food she was served. “It all looks delicious, but I have a serious question,” one Reddit user wrote. “In the U.S., pregnant women are supposed to stay away from all manner of fish […] because of the mercury, especially fish from near Asia because of the higher industrial pollution output.”
But Goeku assured viewers that the hospital was very careful to avoid these types of seafood. “They told me to stay away from high mercury fish, so tuna or swordfish,” she wrote. “But other fish, like salmon, was totally fine… In general, the fish here is very fresh, so it’s probably safe from a bacteria standpoint.”
She also fielded questions about the amount of food she was receiving, because it looked to be a lot less than what a new mom might need to re-nourish her body. “All the calories were posted every day so we could see how much we were eating,” she responded.
“All three meals always added up to between 2,000-2,500 calories,” she went on. “Breastfeeding burns an extra 300-500 calories per day, depending on output. So, I think they were overfeeding us rather than underfeeding, probably to help with recovery.”
And, while her images stunned the rest of the world, they probably didn’t cause much of a stir in Goeku’s country of residence. Japanese food, even in hospitals, is all about freshness. They do their best to incorporate vegetables, fish and miso soup, to keep patients sated and healthy.
For Goeku, that meal plan certainly served its purpose. After her four-day stay, she headed home with her husband and new daughter, Toyo. Still, it’s easy to assume she’ll never forget that hospital stay during which she received a delicious menu of Japanese food and welcomed a new child into the world, to boot.