Spirituality of food

The Spirituality of Food

Why do people get so worked up about food in aged care? I’ll tell you why – it’s because what we eat, how we eat and who we eat with is loaded with meaning. Take a moment to think about the place of food in your own life. Cast your mind back over the years. What is your ‘comfort food’? When, where and how were the meals eaten that created a deep feeling of home?

What are the flavours of belonging, for you? When did you realise that what you ate and how you ate was different to others? What type of food, or aspect of eating with others, would you never give up?

Food in aged care has an incredibly significant role to play in day-to-day nutrition. This cannot be separated from the role of food and eating in our meaning-making. Here at Meaningful Ageing we drew on some fascinating literature* when putting together our submission for the National Congress on Food, Nutrition and the Dining Experience in Aged Care run by the Maggie Beer Foundation on behalf of the Department of Health.

If aged care services and regulators do not take a broader view of the purpose of food in aged care, it will remain one of the most complained about aspects of the aged care system. We must not lose sight of food and dining as a place that reinforces social and cultural life, as an opportunity for dignity and wellbeing, as a place of rituals layered with meaning such as comfort, caring, celebration and family ties.

It speaks to our need for connectivity: with others, our faith heritage, nature and even God. What we eat gives us a chance to exercise control over what constitutes our very being. Food preparation and dining is a complex web of formal and informal rules that have been worked out in each person’s particular life. People’s preferences are not merely one flavour over another as if choosing a lolly in the shop window. Food preferences are driven by a powerful system of cultural beliefs, traditions, values, practices and socioeconomic circumstance. As with spirituality, food beliefs are highly personal.

Let me know what you think of this adapted definition from Michopoulou and Jauniškis’s literature review of food spirituality:

‘An innate sense of connection that a person can experience to and through food in regard to personal and social identity, culture and ritual, nature and the environment, body and soul, the mundane and the universal’ (adapted from Michopoulou & Jauniškis, 2020, p8-9). You can access our full submission here.

Originally written by former CEO, Ilsa Hampton