Renowned cook and food personality Maggie Beer has established The Maggie Beer Foundation, which aims to improve the quality of food being served to elderly Australians.
Launched in April 2014 at Tasting Australia (part of which included a forum on the elderly and a cooking competition for chefs from aged-care centres), Beer’s mission is to marry her innate knowledge of what good food can do for everyone’s (particularly the elderly’s) state of mind to the latest cutting-edge research on nutrition’s impact on brain health and general well-being. Beer describes the initiative as a “truly nourishing mix, so much greater than the sum of its parts”. A good food life for all, and all that encompasses, is what drives Beer, and that includes the aged. Beer’s interest in the elderly was sparked when, as Senior Australian of the Year in 2010, she spoke at a conference of aged-care leaders. Drawing inspiration from her “mentor”, the indefatigable Stephanie Alexander, Beer wants to do for elderly South Australian aged care residents what Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden Foundation does in enhancing food education in primary schools. “Everyone, regardless of their age or circumstance, deserves access to good food,” Beer says. She is aware of the enormity and complexity of the task ahead to create change in a positive, inclusive way. “That’s why I created my Foundation comprised of a skilled Board with expertise and a message designed to appeal to like-minded people around Australia.” Beer has teamed up with Country Health SA in leading a campaign to improve the food served in regional aged-care facilities in SA. The project will be trialed initially at Mount Pleasant Hospital and Abbeyfield Residential Care in Williamstown as part of the State Government’s Ageing Action Plan. The regional project will involve Beer developing and testing a new approach to food in aged care, with a focus on quality, freshness and presentation. According to well-known chef Simon Bryant, some of the major hurdles facing aged-care homes were budgets, training and liability surrounding risks such as falls, food poisoning and choking. Currently more than 15,000 people are in residential care homes, while about 70,000 people use home and community care services in South Australia. As South Australia’s population ages, these numbers are set to increase rapidly. In 2011, the state had nearly 400,000 Baby Boomers (born 1946-64), which represented nearly 25 percent of the population. The project will focus on beautifully presented, fresh, high quality food. Beer hopes the campaign will bring a much-needed change in regional aged-care homes’ approach to food. “This is a mission dear to my heart. So I am delighted to be working with Country Health SA in a project that has the potential to change the way we ‘do food’ in aged care in those facilities where beautiful, fresh food has not been a priority,” One initial aim is to identify and celebrate aged care facilities that are already doing a good job. Another important step is to find ways to encourage facilities that are not already doing so to purchase fresh, seasonal, local (Australian) ingredients in the preparation of the food for residents. However, how well elderly Australians eat is a matter for conjecture. Many aged-care providers may take exception to the suggestion that their residents do not receive an excellent food and dining experience. In order to gain accreditation, and consequent funding, aged-care providers must already provide many things in their menus and food service (including choices at each meal to allow for personal preferences and cultural diversity). The kitchens in aged-care facilities are tightly controlled environments of activity where the staff work hard in order to produce many meals and between-meals offerings each day. In that regard they are not very different to the pressured environment of a commercial kitchen in a well-patronised restaurant. So what is the standard of food currently being served in aged-care homes in South Australia and nationally? What are the criteria on which these assessments are based? And, just how does one go about devising, funding and implementing an effective scheme (presumably a long-term national objective)? A logical starting point is to benchmark the current state-of-play and then move forward from there. Beer’s initiative is ambitious, it promises much and it is engendering public interest. Now the Foundation has been established, and public donations solicited, we can hope to see the project implemented. maggiebeerfoundation.org.au