Eating Good – How Can We Do it Better, Together?
So, when is the last time you ate in an elementary school cafeteria? How about a congregate meal site with older adults? How was the food and atmosphere? Was it wholesome, delicious, piping hot and artfully arranged to inspire your appetite? Or was it questionably nutritious, lukewarm and plopped on a Styrofoam plate and served at long rows of crowded tables? Hmmmm, I thought so.slop is slop, and so is most institutional food.
Here is the real kicker: in Denver last year we had 300 people on the Meals on Wheels waiting list at a time we were throwing out conservatively ten times that amount in school lunches. So as Director of the Denver Office on Aging I wanted to partner with Denver Public Schools to box up those extra school lunches and have older kids deliver them to homebound elders in the neighborhoods of the schools. While admittedly not the best cuisine, it seemed better than going hungry.
Of course, we couldn’t do that. Why? Federal nutritional guidelines that allow our kids to eat fried, processed chickenetts, canned fruit and vegetables, and white bread, do not meet the nutritional guidelines for older adults – they need something nutritionally different, well, like pulled BBQ pork, potato salad and baked beans with white rolls.
So, what if we made food that met everyone’s nutritional requirements, served it hot and served it to young and old alike in our school cafeterias (which of course we would seriously redecorate). And, what if we created Sustainable Gardens that grew the food right there in the school yard —and made the gardens part of the children’s education and classroom and invited the community elders to help tend those gardens?
Such innovation is beginning to take root for our children through fabulous programs like Slow Food (http://www.slowfoodusa.org/ ) and School Gardens
but there are few, if any, equivalent programs for seniors. And why reinvent the wheel? Aging in community seeks to bridge this gap by thinking how can we make it better, by doing it together.