The NHS’s cheap, mass-produced food policy needs a complete overhaul, says Joanna Blythman

As a prelude to launching its major report on the state of hospital food next month, the Soil Association has asked people to send in photos of the good, bad and ugly meals that patients are served.

Click onto the website, you'll find yourself looking at what the Soil Association describes as "an apology for a dinner" some grey mince that appears to be bathed in liquidised bread or pastry, flanked by mushy white rice, and a garish ensemble of corn, carrots and beans, that's the stuff fancifully described by institutional caterers as "Mexican mixed vegetables".

If this is, to date, the worst example the Soil Association's photographic initiative has unearthed, they ain't seen nothing yet.

Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera during a mercifully brief recent stay in hospital, and the "food" wasn't photogenic anyway. Mario Testino would have struggled to take a flattering snap of my Polly Pocket-sized tub of "non-dairy ice cream" and that staggeringly salty, otherwise taste-free "soup" that resembled wallpaper paste. Even the staff nurse was puzzled. "Maybe it's mushroom" she suggested helpfully, "it's often hard to tell."

The first problem with food in almost all hospitals, as far as I can establish, is that there isn't enough of it you'd starve if you relied on it. The second is that even if your illness doesn't kill you, then the food quality will certainly sap your will to live. No wonder patients, just like prisoners in miserable jails in punitive countries, depend on relatives to bring them food. Unlike prisoners, though, patients are too weak to riot. Perhaps that's why the powers-that-be get away with it.

This lazy hospital fodder takes 'cheap' food policy to its logical depths: gastronomically and nutritionally impoverished, cut-price, lowest common denominator products, delivered by a globalised distribution chain. How, otherwise, could a white Chorleywood sandwich filled with, defrosted Thai chicken, followed by chocolate chip sponge and egg-free custard be considered a desirable NHS lunch?

Just think of all the tasty, wholesome food being produced within just a few miles of hospitals. Farmers and growers are keen as mustard for the business but defeated by centralised procurement and calorie-counting dieticians.

The politician who sorts out this festering national sore gets my vote.

Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of Bad Food Britain.