Rotorua Hospital: Vegan patient upset over meals

A vegan patient is upset with the meals she was served at Rotorua Hospital. Photos / Andrew Warner, Supplied

A vegan patient at Rotorua Hospital was left “hungry and frustrated” after being given what she believes are nutritionless and unsatisfactory meals for a week – including three apples for dinner.

Rebecca Walker, 23, has been a vegan for seven years, meaning she does not eat animal products.

She had been walking the Te Araroa trail – which spans the length of New Zealand – since the end of January but fractured her ankle while walking around Mount Ruapehu. She was airlifted to Rotorua Hospital on May 17.

Walker had surgery and was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday. She said, in her view, the meals she received during her one-week stay were “not nutritionally fulfilling”.


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A hospital spokesperson says it caters to 20 dietary requirements, including vegan, and works hard to ensure patients receive nutritious meals – with most this month reporting being satisfied with the food.

Walker, however, believed the hospital meal options she was served were “hopeless” because they were either not vegan or did not include any protein.

“I am hungry and frustrated,” she told the Rotorua Daily Post.

A sandwich Rebecca Walker claims she was given during her stay at Rotorua Hospital.
A sandwich Rebecca Walker claims she was given during her stay at Rotorua Hospital.

Walker said she told a staff member she was vegan on the day she was admitted to the hospital.


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She believed it was “concerning” that it appeared “so difficult” for the hospital to provide vegan meals.

Walker claims that on May 17, she was offered three apples and a juice box for dinner, and on May 18, she was given chickpeas covered in cheese for lunch. Walker does not eat cheese.

She also claims that on May 19, she was given Weet-Bix for breakfast with no milk, and on May 20, was given two meals but neither had any protein.

“The sad sandwich had a single slice of tomato in it.”

On May 21, she claims she was given porridge and dairy milk and on May 22, Weet-Bix with dairy milk. Walker does not eat dairy products.

“All I was kind of asking for breakfast would be having soy milk as an option, or a dairy-free alternative.”

Walker said an ideal lunch would have protein in it, such as having hummus with her salad sandwich, or chickpeas, tofu or lentils with dinner.

A plate of food Rebecca Walker claims she was served at the hospital.
A plate of food Rebecca Walker claims she was served at the hospital.

One night, she said she got a vegetable stir fry but believes “60 per cent of the plate [was] rice”.

Walker said she spoke to a staff member on Monday after she was given creamed vegetables, rice and jelly for lunch but “nothing” came of the conversation.

“As there was jelly on the plate and jelly obviously isn’t vegan, I didn’t trust it.”


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She said a staff member told her the meal was vegan.

“I then informed her that jelly isn’t vegan which she didn’t know and [said] that they’ll do better.

“But then the very next morning I got offered cow’s milk and yoghurt again,” Walker claims.

Walker said her meal service experience had made her feel like a “burden”.

“I just understand that [as] part of recovery, you need nutritionally-balanced meals. And plates that are a huge proportion [of] carbs and not that much other stuff isn’t probably the best options for people to get better.”

She believed there needed to be better education on what vegan food was, and knowing the difference between gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan.


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Walker said some of her friends had dropped off some vegan food that had been bought elsewhere.

The Rotorua Daily Post approached Te Whatu Ora Lakes and its catering contractor Spotless for a response to Walker’s comments.

Spotless referred comments to Te Whatu Ora Lakes. The organisation’s hospital and specialist services acting interim lead Gary Lees said it worked hard to ensure patients were receiving nutritious meals and it catered for “a wide range of special diets”.

“If we do receive complaints, our ward staff, dieticians, and our catering staff are available to speak directly to the patient to resolve any issues.”

Lees said all meals must meet the national dietary standard requirements for hospital inpatients and its food contractor met monthly with its dieticians to ensure dietary needs were met.

He said the contractor often listened to the special needs of different patients via its ward ambassadors and facilitated special requests by patients to ensure patient satisfaction.


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Te Whatu Ora Lakes catered to 20 dietary requirements including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, low-fat, halal, and Hindu.

Lees said its Rotorua patient food service averaged 15,000 meals every month and the average patient was in hospital for about seven meals.

Patient satisfaction questionnaires were collected daily with menus and this month’s results showed overall satisfaction for “met” or “exceeded expectations” was 98 per cent, with 74 per cent being “exceeded expectations”.

“Variety” was 100 per cent met or exceeded, he said.

“Our meals are cooked from fresh ingredients on site rather than reconstituted meals using microwaves.”

This month, the vegan options offered included potato lentil curry with garden salad, falafel pita and veggies, roast chickpeas with baby spinach and brown rice salad.


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Lees confirmed there was a special diet kitchen where some meals were prepared and staff were trained to clean and sanitise work areas and equipment before they started preparing special meals to prevent cross-contamination.

Vegan Society of Aotearoa New Zealand media spokesperson Claire Insley told the Rotorua Daily Post the availability of vegan food in hospitals was “variable”.

Insley believed: “Some of the Auckland hospitals are very good… but unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the country.

“If you’re in hospital and you’re sick, you really need really good quality nutrition in order to get better.”

Insley believed it was “a big problem”.

“That’s why we have been working with the Ministry of Health and with Plunket to get food guidelines updated to include vegan food options for people.”


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