This spring Jim McGrody, director of food and nutrition at 650-bed Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, N.C., published his first book, “What We Feed Our Patients.” McGrody says he wrote the book to share his journey to improve hospital foodservice and to share stories he’s learned during his 27-year foodservice career.
When we would see things that were unbelievable I would say, “That needs to go in a book.” Over the years of doing foodservice you come up with a lot of crazy stories. Three years ago I just started writing it all down. I put the book into a timeline of my journey from when I started in the foodservice business until today and how I am trying to transform hospital food. It’s kind of a journal of sorts. The book starts off when I am in Washington, D.C and I had just entered into the hospital world and I saw patient food for the first time. I had worked in hotels and restaurants and I went to culinary school so I had been around good food. What I saw for the patients I couldn’t believe. I said if I’m going to be in this end of the business than I need to make some changes because I’m not serving that. That’s been my quest for the past eight years is to change hospital food. Many people are doing it now and hospital food is definitely changing. I wanted it to be restaurant-quality food. That’s what the whole book is about. There are no recipes in the book. It does talk a lot about menus and recipe development.
At the end of the book there is a collection of short stories in a chapter called “The World We Live In.” I have this one story where I had this cook rip sandwiches with her bare hands because she was too lazy to go and find a knife. I saw that and said you have to be kidding me. She didn’t care and had no love for food at all. Another story is about a drunken interview. I had a guy interviewing for a cook’s job. He was so drunk. His wife, who was also drunk, came into the interview with their kids. The guy and his wife started arguing, and I had to call the campus police.
Another story was when I was working in colleges and we had a big catering event. I was driving up after the catering van. As I got up toward the event I saw that the catering van had been pulled over by the police and they had arrested my employee for selling marijuana out of the back of the van. We were late to the event. All these things had happened over the years and I thought no one would believe this. That’s when I wrote it down because you can’t make this stuff up.
I had this employee when I was living in Arizona. He always had an issue and was always complaining about something. One day he said, “Jim I need to talk to you.” We went outside and he was going on and on about something. This giant moth flew right into his mouth, and he started hacking and coughing. It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. I swear that moth was sent to shut him up. After that day he didn’t complain as much. I always think about that guy. I tell that story to my employees. At the end of the book I give credit to some people and I give credit to that guy.
It’s a little bit for everybody. I’ve had hospital directors in New York and New Jersey who have bought it for their entire management staff and they are using it as a guide. It’s for the patients and the hospital foodservice workers. There is a section on hospital administration. It talks about contractors and patient satisfaction. The book talks about the quest for good food and how we shouldn’t just accept what we’re given. We should strive to make it restaurant quality. It’s my goal to make it a dining experience for our patients.
I had enough experience and had enough of a story to tell. Being in a self-op world I really got to drive the program without any restraints or corporate policies and programs. My operation in the 95th percentile in satisfaction and we had a 40% increase in revenue in retail. We are a go-to account now in this region. Other people come and visit us now. I felt that I had the credentials to talk about how we did things. I had a story to tell and I thought people wanted to read it.
The hardest part of writing the book was getting it organized and getting it to make sense. It took two and a half years to write it and then about six months of editing. I hired a professional editor. Making it flow was difficult. The editing itself was a really important step because I’m terrible in grammar. It’s funny because the people who knew me in high school would say I’m the last person they expected to write a book. It was a huge thing for me to do.
It was a lot harder than I thought it would be to write the book. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours writing it. It was a labor of love. It took a lot of energy and time. I learned a lot about the publishing world. It was a very unique learning experience. If I write a second book I will be better prepared than I was with this one.
When I was writing it I would recall a lot of things in my career that I would say I wish I knew then what I know now. It’s a 27-year journey and I see things differently now. I have a more experienced and mature eye now. I’m more patient now. Writing the book took me through all the different periods of my life. The book starts when I was in high school. I was a dishwasher at the time and all I wanted to do was cook. I kept bugging the owner of this restaurant and finally he let me cook. There is a lot of reflection in the book.
It’s interesting because everyone who reads the book says they are re-energized. One of the directors in New Jersey put one of his chefs on a performance improvement plan after reading the book.
Read more about “What We Feed Our Patients.”
Read more about Jim McGrody, our FSD of the Month in May 2010.