Diverse culture of eating
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
(written and published in Bidfood NZ - Health and Aged Care Publication)
As a child, I remember sitting around with my Nana and aunties making Kofta Kebabs for Poppa and uncles. The uncles would cook the Kebabs on the charcoal barbeque for the whole family to enjoy. This is a fond memory; we would prepare the mince, dice the onions and measure the spices before we would mould onto the kebab sticks. This took a long time but was rewarding and enjoyable as I got to do it with the people I love, and learnt so much about the culture and the meaning of food in our culture.
Food for me and I’m guessing many of you is a very powerful reminder of family, culture and the emotional connections formed. Understanding all this, we as humans have many emotional and kinaesthetic connections to food. The consumption of proteins, carbohydrates and nutrients are only one part of how we all relate to food. Although this is an important part of what we consume there is much more to the experience. A chef once told me food is an art – we can smell, touch and see the beauty in it.
As demographics change in Aged Care we notice the emergence of people from more diverse ethnicities are being cared for in facilities. People of many cultures - including, but not limited to, European, Asian, Indian, Pacific and Maori – are now residents in need of quality care.
How do we best embrace this and what do all these cultures have in common? Food, food is the essence of family gatherings, invoking fond memories and in many circumstances the food and kitchen is the heart of the home. Care facilities need to consider if they are not already, the diverse cultures and the way residents would eat ‘at home’ with their families when they plan, prepare and serve meals. Taking part in a meal is not only necessary for residents’ nutritional needs; it can also be a way to revive a familiar social ritual in an unfamiliar place.
The Western or European way of eating is quite a clinical, restaurant-like process: the meal is served on a plate, and eaten using knives and forks. Other cultures may be very different. Asian cultures most commonly will use chopsticks (and sometimes their hands, forks and spoons) to eat, gathered around a table, or sometimes on the floor. Dishes are shared, with each individual having an accompanying bowl of rice. It is also customary to have a toast prior to eating in some situations.
The etiquette of Indian dining is generally without cutlery, eating with your right hand (washed of course) using the tips of the fingers. This is very kinaesthetic as feeling the food indicates to the stomach you are ready to eat. The dining experience is a whole-body appreciation of the tastes and texture of food.
Pacific and Maori culture will use their hands and utensils. The tendency is to serve all the different dishes in the centre of the table for everyone to share. A prayer or blessing is generally part of the social custom prior to eating and everyone slowly eats and takes their time engaging in conversation.
The diversity isn’t just in ‘the way we eat’ but also with ‘what we eat’. Planning the menu for different ethnicities can be challenging, however crucial for the wellbeing of many residents. Providing meals in a style familiar to the resident might even help with lack of appetite or weight loss.
The biggest asset in an aged care facility is your residents and their families. Engage with them, sit down and talk about their needs and what they would generally eat and how they would eat if they were at home. Don’t be afraid to change what is considered the status quo around dining. Below are some suggestions on ways to incorporate different ethnic foods into the menu. These are authentic, affordable solutions that could be prepared quickly in the kitchen.