Dining in the Med Center, Where Health and Disease Collide

If you thought the world’s biggest hospital district would have healthier dining options, think again.

By Katharine Shilcutt March 9, 2015 Published in the March 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

“Here's the thing,” begins the very first Yelp review—written by one April P.—of the McDonald’s located on the first floor of the Abercrombie building inside Texas Children’s Hospital. “I can't bear the irony that the hospital treating my mom for heart disease with some of the best cardiologists in the nation in the best cardiology center in the biggest medical center in the world features a McDonald's in the heart of the building, serving hot and fresh heart-crippling meals all day and night—the very food that put my mother there.”

According to current figures, the Texas Medical Center employs 106,000 Houstonians and plays host to 7.2 million visitors per year. There are no statistics on how many of them feel the same quiet indignation as April P., but anecdotal evidence suggests that their numbers are not few.

“I was always a faithful packer of my lunch,” recalls a friend who worked in the St. Luke’s emergency room for years. Why, we wondered, didn’t she just slip off to nearby Rice Village or Midtown? “Staff have 30 minutes to eat and return to duty,” came the reply. “A 10-minute walk and five-minute wait in line just doesn't cut it for a 12-hour shift.”   

“My parking garage is 12-plus stories and usually it takes five minutes to walk to it, plus another five just to get out of it,” reports another friend, an MD Anderson type. “So, there's 10 minutes already gone by. If we go out to eat, we'll usually head to the Village. But usually it's the cafeteria, which—as I'm in an administrative building in mid-campus—isn't so hot.”

So far as we know, there are only two commendable non-chain options on the entire 1,345-acre campus—Trevisio in the John P. McGovern building (elegant lunch or dinner with a view) and Al Vetro in Methodist’s Scurlock Tower (bona fide Italian espressos and macchiatos). Otherwise, you’re looking at a Frappuccino at Starbucks (350 calories), a Chik-Fil-A Spicy Chicken Deluxe (570), or a Murphy’s Deli Muffaletta (1,317)—comestibles that are the stuff of dieticians’ nightmares. 

And if you think things are tough for personnel, consider the plight of patients and their families. Navigating an unfamiliar Med Center and its dozens of pricey parking garages is exhausting on a good day—and it’s safe to say that most visitors to the Med Center aren’t having a good day. Adding insult to, well, injury, the healthiest dinner for miles is a dismal 6-inch Subway Club (237 calories).  

Perhaps we’re being too harsh. Given the high-rent, high-traffic paradigm of places like the Med Center’s human rat mazes and the downtown tunnels, it’s no wonder that Big Food has a big presence. What other explanation could there be for, say, McDonald’s being the sole food option at, say, the Museum of Natural Science?

On second thought, there is no explanation.


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