What is Nutrition? The hospital at which I currently work would define nutrition as the intake of the correct percentage of fats, proteins and carbohydrates with sufficient vitamins and minerals to enable optimum function of the human cells and organ systems. And that digestion, absorption and excretion of the defined essential nutrients are necessary for life (Gottschlich , 2007). Although this definition has been proven scientifically by numerous studies, I believe it lacks something essential and possibly immeasurable. Hospitals are notorious for having bad food. About 40 percent of what hospital kitchens serve is thrown into the trashcan (Leeder, June 2011). So what is missing? From my experience there is little consideration to the tastes, textures and energies of foods which are served to those who are in most need of nourishing wholesome foods. From this experience I have developed my definition of nutrition as being the consumption of plants and animals with a sufficient balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals which stimulate the senses and are prepared with care and compassion to preserve the subtle energies present in them.
Developing this definition demonstrated to me that I still focus some of my beliefs on the evidence presented to me and less on my own experience of nourishing my body. Like a religion I have been indoctrinated into the beliefs of biomedical nutrition. One of these beliefs is that science has determined the appropriate amount of proteins to be consumed each day and that recommended dietary allowances of vitamins and minerals are necessary to prevent disease. These beliefs break nutrition into its individual components with some radicals believing that they can obtain the necessary nutrients isolated from the source of the actual food by supplementing with synthetic vitamins and protein powders. This religion I have been indoctrinated into through my pharmacy schooling and career development has a defined set of rules. It publishes bibles we call references for defining these rules. And they preach of strict penalties for not following them, including causing patient harm, malpractice and lawsuits.
I recently took the Nutritional Support Certification test. This test required me to demonstrate my knowledge of the rules for providing proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals to patients who were unable to consume food via their digestive tracts by using parenteral nutrition. These can be lifesaving interventions but it makes me wonder what is missing. Preparing these intravenous meals in a bag is technical and scientific following the rules of the religion. It is like offering last rights. This religious sacrament gave people absolution for any transgression they may have committed up to the present moment. Like last rites, any abuse to their bodies through poor nutrition where forgiven and external grace through a solution of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and mineral was infused directly into their blood stream eliminating the need to digest or interact with the complexity of whole foods. The work of digesting and absorbing is done for you.
This nutritional religion of biomedical nutrition requires its practitioners to tithe to the religion by charging for certification, and licensing. And its believers are required to pay for the solutions that are prepared for them. It also has many prophets who publish their inspirations via peer review journals.
But I wonder about how these patients are impacted by not being able to experience the scents, textures and tastes of foods. I also wonder how creating synthetic substitutes for whole foods, which are devoid of the living energies inherent in them, will impact their wellbeing. This late intervention is limited in the totality of the experience of food. I became convinced that interventions had to be introduced before people got to this state of dysfunction. Because nothing we could do at this stage would include the subtle energies necessary for optimal function. With this realization I began to experience a conversion of my beliefs. The doctrines of biomedical nutrition were no longer enough. They no longer provided the whole truth.
So I take one step back to the oral diets provided by hospitals. To the lifeless meals of canned vegetables, overcooked meats and non-whole grains which have little or no texture or taste. I am on a religious pilgrimage to discover the truth in providing soul and body nourishing foods in an institutional setting.
There are prophets of this new belief that nourishing healthy foods can be reintroduced into hospitals. This past summer Joshna Maharaj began her journey to create fresh local foods from scratch at Scarborough hospital in Toronto, Canada (Leeder, June 2011). Like a true prophet she preaches that “Food needs a champion. It needs someone to fight for it… What you eat directly impacts your health and recuperation” (Leeder, June 2011). This conversion is being seen in America as well with 40 U.S. hospitals hosting farmers’ markets to provide easy access to healthy foods (Leeder, June 2011). And they are not stopping with patients who are in the hospital, they have started realizing it begins before the patients arrive (Leeder, June 2011). So my role as evangelist begins.
Gottschlich, M.M. editor. (2007). The A.S.P.E.N. nutrition support core curriculum: A case-based approach- the adult patient. American society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition