I recently visited my mother in Detroit. She’s 76. Over the years I’ve noticed some changes in her eating habits. My mother used to be pro-active about cooking and eating whole foods. She introduced me to Macrobiotics and Annemarie’s books back in the 80’s. Little by little over the years, however, fresh fruits and vegetables gave way in Mom’s pantry to more and more processed and artificial foods – non-dairy creamer, “butter” spreads, frozen dinners. I think this trend is increasingly common among the elderly, although it’s prevalent enough among people of all ages.
I always cook for my mother when I visit. I take everything fresh I can find in the refrigerator and turn it into prepared dishes. My mother is always so grateful for this small favor. While she continues to buy fresh produce in stock piles with the intention to cook it, most of it eventually spoils and ends up in the trash. Day-to-day she’s subsisting, like so many Americans young and old, on “convenience” foods with eternal shelf lives.
My guess is that many elderly people don’t cook because they are alone, they’re no longer motivated or, in some cases, haven’t the well-being to do so.
This got me thinking about the current groundswell of programs directed at improving the way our young are eating. Many of our students and graduates are committed to the myriad initiatives designed to educate children and young adults about their origins and quality of their food. Garden projects, cooking classes, nutrition classes for youth – all of these are catching fire both locally and nationally. Consider the recent Chefs Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids recently hosted by Michelle Obama at the White House or Jamie Oliver’s TED prize project. The issue is hot.
The quality of our food is obviously important at all stages of our lives but, like the young, the elderly are particularly vulnerable. So many people are eating foods that don’t support healthier aging.
What can we do to bring older people back into our culinary community, our CSAs, our co-ops? What would it take to get them cooking again? I’m contemplating my own role (maybe cooking classes!). Do you know of programs in this area, or do you have any ideas?