Maggie Beer in crusade to improve food for aged care residents

19 February, 2014

This article was written by Simon Wilkinson, published in The Advertiser and on www.adelaidenow.com.au on 17 February 2014.

Ms Beer has teamed with Country Health SA in spearheading a push to improve the food served in regional aged care facilities in SA.

The project will be trialled initially at Mount Pleasant Hospital and Abbeyfield Residential Care in Williamstown as part of the State Government’s Ageing Action Plan.

Ms Beer said her interest in the diet of the elderly had been sparked when she was named Senior Australian of the Year in 2010.

She plans to unveil further initiatives during a major forum on the theme at this year’s Tasting Australia festival.

“It is such a huge thing to change,” she said. “It is going to be the rest of my life. I am on this journey and I am gathering my forces with like-minded people around Australia.

“Good food is important for everyone, but more so for someone who has limited control over their future. What can be more immediate than giving people beautiful food and the difference it makes to every day in their life.’’

Ms Beer said she would be following the lead of her friend Stephanie Alexander, whose Kitchen Garden Foundation has revolutionised food education in primary schools around the country.

“I’ve learnt so much from the way Stephanie has made such enormous change. In a sense she is, as ever, my mentor. She has shown me the way.”

Ms Beer said the seed for the campaign was planted when she was named Senior Australian of the Year in 2010 and addressed a conference of aged care leaders.

She wanted to promote change “in a positive, inclusive way”. One early priority would be to identify aged care facilities that were already doing a good job.

Another important step was finding ways to encourage facilities that weren’t already doing so to purchase fresh, seasonal, local (Australian) ingredients in the preparation of the food for residents.

Health and Ageing Minister Jack Snelling said the project in regional centres would see Mrs Beer helping to develop and trial a new approach to food in aged care, with a focus on quality, freshness and presentation.

“This program is about trying to engage people and to have someone of Maggie Beer’s profile and stature on board is a coup for us in terms of getting recognition and getting people involved,” he said.

Ms Beer said the new initiative was an important step.

“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.

“I wanted to work with an organisation and show that together we could make better food choices.”

Ms Beer will be part of a major forum on the elderly during the Tasting Australia festival, participating in a panel that will include the event’s co-director Simon Bryant and industry leaders.

The festival will also run a cooking competition for chefs from aged care centres.

“They can make or break someone’s day,” Bryant said. “A normal chef doesn’t have that influence, so they really are heroes.”

Mr Bryant said some of the biggest hurdles facing aged-care homes were budgets, training and liability surrounding risks such as falls, food poisoning and choking.

“The first step is to collectively take responsibility and negate risk in a sensible way,” Mr Bryant said.

In South Australia, more than 15,000 people are in residential care facilities, while nearly 70,000 people use home and community care services.

The numbers will increase dramatically in coming years. In 2011, the state had nearly 400,000 Baby Boomers (born 1946-64), which equated to 24.9 per cent of the population.

Dr Mike Rungie, the chief executive of not-for-profit aged care provider ACH, said the industry would welcome the involvement of Ms Beer.

“She is exactly the kind of person to lead a mindset change to the kind of things she talks about,” he said. “And she is so loved. If Maggie Beer came in and talked about food, whatever you ate you would love.”

Dr Rungie said he thought residential care, on the whole, did a good job, but faced two major challenges that were not dependent on budget.

“One is moving from a hospitality approach to an everyday approach. We all get bored with eating food in restaurants no matter how good it is and we yearn for the everyday.

“The second is that delight comes from variety. The problem with any service system is its quality comes from doing the same thing all the time.

“I don’t think budget is an impediment, at least in the first place. It’s not about money, it’s about approach.