This is National Vegetarian Week. Although I am not a vegetarian, I spend a lot of my life eating vegetarian food and can understand why so many millions are now becoming vegetarians. Therefore it comes as no surprise that there is now a full week for people to explore and understand what it means to be vegetarian. It’s made me reflect on the role of food in good care – dare I say it’s given me food for thought!
For those working in social care we recognise and acknowledge that nutrition and healthy eating are essential ingredients for good effective care and support. We know that physical nutrition is often the first thing to diminish as we get older. Sadly we have evidence that 1 in 10 older people in the United Kingdom are suffering from or are at risk of malnutrition.
Positively there are an increasing number of resources available to ensure whether in residential care or in someone’s own home individuals are supported to be enriched by what they eat and consume. Resources such as those provided on the Care Inspectorate Hub support staff and organisations to get better at nutritional support.
But of course the benefits of eating are not just to do with our physiology, they impact upon our psychological health and well-being also. Hospitality is a critical element in effective care and support.
Last week the Guardian newspaper published research from Age Concern highlighting the millions of older citizens who are affected by loneliness and the mental health challenges that that brings. It’s not by accident that the word ‘companion’ which describes an essential element of being with someone, comes from a word which literally means ‘to break bread’
We all know that eating and drinking with others isn’t just a physical need but addresses a deeply felt desire to be with, to socialise, to communicate and commune. Sadly for many older Scots that social dimension has been lost to them and removed from them.
In our latest report published last Friday ‘Bringing Home Care’, Scottish Care is calling for a return to the social dimension of care. Time flexible, relationship based care, care with a social dimension – offers us not just physical fulfilment but also attends to psychological and emotional well-being.
We have got to the stage that convenience foods placed in front of someone on a TV tray who are then required to eat alone has become equated with adequate care. That cannot be right.
A cup of tea (with or without the biscuit!) and the time spent talking and gossiping, reconnecting and renewing, is as much a critical part of good care as the filling in of an assessment form or care plan to detail nutritional intake.
So whether vegetarian or carnivore – let’s put food and time at the heart of our care, let’s rediscover the social in social care