Prof June Andrews was reminiscing about a visit to a care home where she looked at the lunch menus and asked, “Is there a vegetarian option?” “Oh, well, actually, we have that at supper time” was the nonchalant reply. When she told us this, we were laughing, but we weren’t happy. This is where we became interested in “Vegetarian for Life”, and we are delighted to host this blog from Tina Fox.
Vegetarian for Life
“Vegetarian for Life” was established as a charity in 2007 – and it is a service that offers advice for older vegetarians and vegans and those who care for them. The remarkable thing is that it was actually a person with dementia who inspired the trustees to set up the charity in the first place. This lady, in her late 80s or 90s, had been a vegan for most of her life and extremely active in the animal rights movement, running her own charity at one stage. However when she developed dementia and went into care, the care home felt it was quite in order to give her meat to eat as she “would not know any different” and she had no relatives to fight her corner.
I know from talking to people at the various care roadshows and other events that we attend that this is quite a common approach. Vegetarians and vegans are often viewed as somewhat of a nuisance anyway, wanting something different from everyone else to eat. It is not always simple. We absolutely understand that there are vegetarians who remember eating meat when younger and therefore want to eat the same as the other residents. Each person is different but they all should be approached sympathetically with the needs of the individual as central, not the convenience of the care home.
Our research has shown that at least one in four care homes houses one or more vegetarians and they often cluster together. There are no dedicated vegetarian care homes in the UK. The number of older vegetarians is likely to increase due to the ageing of the “hippy generation” and the increased numbers of older vegetarians from black and minority ethnic populations entering care. Of these some will probably eventually develop dementia as they age. Is it right to ignore all their previously held beliefs and cultural norms? Does that accord any element of respect to the individual?
The fact is that someone who has never eaten meat/ fish or has not eaten them for over 50 years is going to find this “new” food a shock to the system. Meat products tend to be more difficult to digest for older people generally, never mind one who is not familiar with them.
Catering for vegetarians in care is often a hit and miss affair with some providers offering excellent food with variety and balance and others dishing up a cycle of cheese and egg dishes at every opportunity. Without the proper balance of nutrition the likelihood of developing dementia is greater. Dementia can also be deferred or slowed down by the use of good nutrition so care homes and sheltered schemes owe it to all their residents, vegetarian or otherwise, to get it right.
Treating each resident with the respect they deserve is a recipe for success – Vegetarian for Life is very happy to help with the ingredients!
– Tina Fox
Tina Fox is the Director (Scotland) for Vegetarian for Life and was previously Chief Executive of the Vegetarian Society UK Ltd and Chair of the International Vegetarian Union.
Vegetarian for Life has many recipes on its website www.vegetarianforlife.org.uk and also has a number of printed publications and a training DVD on catering for older vegetarians and vegans. All resources are provided free of charge and the charity also operates a list of vegetarian friendly care homes ( also free to join).
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.