Last week one of the truly beautiful ladies—sweet, kind, pretty and polite—called me over to her table in the dining room. She still has all her marbles and is only in residence because her husband has lost most of his.
“Do you want to sign a petition with us?” she asked.
“What on earth for?” I said.
“We want better food,” she said pointing at her plate. “We need more fresh vegetables. Everything is either frozen, fried or canned. It’s not seasoned. The breading is tasteless. It’s never hot when it reaches our table. And most of the time the food has turned to mush.”
I looked at her plate and studied the mush. In this case, it was King Ranch Chicken. The dish brought back a lovely, long-ago memory from a camping trip with students out West. We had stopped at Yellowstone (40 degrees and snowing in June), and, while the rest had gone off to look at Moose or whatevers, I had stayed behind with several students to make King Ranch Chicken.
We chopped and mixed onions, peppers, soups and seasonings and layered that with tortillas, cheese and chicken in a heavy Dutch Oven. The concoction simmered slowly over the coals for hours. When the students finally returned, we all piled into the big Civil War canvas tent to eat. I brought in the Dutch Oven and lifted the lid. The thick, rich, heavenly aroma drifted up into the chilly mountain air, setting all our taste buds to tingling. It was delicious.
No, sadly, the mush on this plate bore little resemblance to that long-ago dish. Regrettably, most of what she said was true. But then again, the chefs here are required to keep a tight hold on the seasoning. Most of the population are on a restricted salt diet. It’s over indulging in highly seasoned foods that brings on gout and these people have enough problems to say grace over without adding that painful ailment.
As I arrive early in the mornings, I often see the food delivery trucks parked outside the kitchen. Their drivers are trundling in crates and cases of food, much of it, admittedly, frozen or canned. But the chefs do make an attempt to get a few raw veggies and fresh fruit into the meals. However, it’s expensive to add fresh anything to a meal and it’s harder still to keep fresh food fresh. They try. They really do. And I find the food perfectly palatable.
Since Mom is no gourmand, and has no idea what she eats anyway, I begged off joining the Food Riots. One of the benefits of being here is that I have not had to worry about her food. I no longer bother to ask her what she wants to eat but simply circle the foods on the menu sheet and hand it in. Sister agrees that more vegetables would be an improvement and would be better for her, but Mom isn’t cleaning her plate anyway, so why worry?
Mom seems to be eating less and less. While I was gone overnight this past weekend, I had the food delivered in To-Go boxes to her room. When I returned, all three white Styrofoam boxes were sitting, unopened, on the kitchen counter. I’m not sure whether she didn’t know the boxes were food or just wasn’t hungry, but the food looked particularly unappetizing after sitting, untouched, for hours.
I’m going to be gone again for a two-day stay. I’ll pay the Caregiver here to check on Mom and see that she gets to the dining room. Delivered food didn’t work. When Mom gets hungry, she seems to have enough marbles left to make it to the dining room. The other residents help her with her menu choices and point her back to her room when she is done. At least I know she won’t starve to death in two days.
And as to the Food Riots, they never materialized. I don’t know if anything was ever said, but there have been more veggies on the plates and more fresh fruit in the bowls. And the salt shaker is always close at hand.