I think we can all agree that a home is just not a home without a good hot meal being served up on the reg. Unfortunately, some of our Aged Care residents are not getting even close to that in their ‘homes’.
$7 a day is what some of the lower end providers are budgeting for each resident on meals, in what was described at the Royal Commission hearings as ‘a race to the bottom.’ $7 per day is less than some people spend on coffee per day. What nutrition can you expect from 3 meals, snacks if you’re lucky, for a mere $7?
“It’s just impossible.” Says well respected Australian celebrity chef, Maggie Beer who has been advocating for change in the industry for years. The founder of the Maggie Beer Foundation, an organisation established in 2014 to improve the nutritional experiences for ageing Australians, was appalled by the reports at the recent hearings.
At the commission hearings in Darwin earlier this month we heard stories of poor cuts of meat, mass orders of frozen vegetables, reheated food, poor portion sizes and ‘low risk’ cheap, finger food platters instead of hot meals. In the worse cases, the Commission heard of maggot-infested storage and hungry residents picking at cold leftovers on trays left in the hallways. It sounds like a horror film rather than a “home”.
Maggie is one of many who are calling for more money and education be filtered into the catering at Aged Care homes. She told media after the hearing how important flavour and meal satisfaction is for living a good life. And in her opinion, this is what Aged Care homes need.
“Every bite of sustenance should be of goodness, but flavour first: flavour, goodness and pleasure,” she said.
“Without those things in equal measure they don’t have enough to look forward to getting up in the morning.” She told the Sydney Morning Herald.
With her foundation, her vision is to, “ensure that all residents in aged care have access to fresh, wholesome, seasonal food, abundant with flavour.”
To achieve this, the Maggie Beer Foundation aims to engage with and educate more cooks and chefs in the aged care sector. But it might take more than just education. Money needs to be invested. Beer told SBS after the hearings that even an extra $3.50 per day would give residents a better experience, the experience they deserve. Saying even lifting the budget to $10.50 per day per resident would vastly improve circumstances.
“It’s not possible to feed them with a combination of nutrition, flavour and pleasure — it is not possible, full stop, at $7 a day,” Maggie told the press after the hearing in Darwin.
It’s not all providers that are serving up a bung deal for residents, however. The Commission did hear that at the other end of the scale, spending just $16 per day, one provider was able to serve meals such as salt-and-pepper squid, filet mignon, and occasional portions of frozen but high-quality produce. It’s not impossible.
The Maggie Beer Foundation runs masterclasses for chefs and cooks in aged care facilities. The classes teach cooks how to source and cook fresh, seasonal––and tasty––food within a budget. Food is one of the only things many residents have to look forward to at the end of their life. Mealtimes should be celebrated and the sights, sound and smells of real cooking should be present in a good home.
Unfortunately, though, it is out of the chef’s hands in some of the centres. According to a round table of 3 chefs who’ve collectively worked in the industry over 100 years, it all comes down to what the providers are willing to put on the table as far as budgets are concerned as to what they can put on the table for residents. Again, it seems the bottom line is the bottom line.
There is still a long way to go, but I think with the right people speaking up and foundations like Beer’s getting involved, there may be some hope for some decent nosh for our treasured elderly loved ones.
In Maggie’s own words,
“We owe it to our elderly residents and also those in the community who are alone and no longer cooking for themselves. We need to look after them.”