Yesterday, one of my patients asked me if they’d gotten ribs, collard greens, and mac & cheese for dinner the previous evening because it was Martin Luther King day.

Goodness. So many layers to this question…On the one hand, technically, it wasn’t MLK Day, but this week does mark the 50th anniversary of the March of Washington and King’s delivery of his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. The issue of cultural competency has come up a number of times with my patients. I don’t think the person talking to me realized how much they were actually saying, but it struck me. Their tone seemed to be a mix of “I appreciate the meal because it sucked less than most of what we get,” and “way to stereotype me by race.”

The truth is that there are people of all different backgrounds in my department—not to mention working in the whole facility. Still, recent attempts at providing more “culturally conscious” meals have been met with mixed reactions, and understandably so. They’re trying, but it’s hard to please everyone when your patient population is as diverse as the employees!  The other day we served chicken curry and basmati rice for lunch. It was wildly unpopular. For the record, BBQ, collards, and mac& cheese is always served on Thursday of this particular week in our menu cycle, but it was interesting timing—and also interesting that patients felt it was related to the anniversary of the March.

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I asked this person what they thought of the meal, and they went on to say that the collards and ribs were good but that the mac & cheese was “that sh!t from the box.” So I asked them about their mac & cheese recipe, and we had fun talking about all the different ways to make mac & cheese and which ones are the best. I know that redirected the conversation to something more “fun” isn’t always the appropriate way to handle an issue like cultural sensitivity, in this case it was the right thing. If nothing else, I learned a lot more about macaroni and cheese preparation than I ever thought possible.

Apparently there’s a Mac and Cheese restaurant—S’MAC—here in NYC for any of you connoisseurs out there.

How do you make macaroni and cheese? 

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