Lunch in the hospital was served by a silent woman of Arabian aspect, whom I nicknamed The Femme Falafel since the food she delivered usually resembled that Middle Eastern speciality, even though it might actually have been fish cakes or even chicken marengo. It was quite possible, therefore, that the Femme Falafel herself was not really Persian, as I imagined, but Italian or Israeli or quite possibly the progeny of Armenian refugees. She merely nodded and smiled hesitantly whenever I thanked her; uncomfortably aware that she carried consignments of tasteless, anonymous substances containing roughly fifty percent of the recommended daily allowance of gloom and despondency. She probably thought that my thanks were muttered ironically; a sort of gallows gratitude from a condemned man.
There is no reason, as far as I can see, why hospital food should be so shapeless and so bland. Surely it must take a reverse alchemical process of some magnitude to transform golden carrots into base, colorless root vegetables. Incalculable time and effort must be exerted turning the fruits of the sea into the prunes of the kitchen, and yet hospital cooks accomplish such a feat with apparent ease. For pudding there is a choice of transparent sponge or jellied tap water. "Food dolorous food," the patients want to sing, paraphrasing the cast of Oliver despite lacking the energy to dance as well. "Gray cabbage and beige chard."
An old proverb claims of medicine: if it tastes bad then it must be good for you. This is fine for cough syrup and other drugs, but why must the awful flavor be included in the hospital menus also? I suppose I could ask the Femme Falafel, but I assume that she would simply draw a discreet veil over the subject.