Fighting the Dragon: The Recipe for Successful Convivium

Published On: August 12th, 2011By Categories: Blog

Each day, one in four Americans visit a fast food restaurant and a total of 40% of American meals are eaten outside the home. These facts are not only reflective of a culture lacking healthy eating habits, but they also suggest that there may be a loss of value in the opportunities that meals provide for building relationships, reminiscing on past experiences, and nurturing one another.
During his presentation at THE GREEN HOUSE® Project 3rdAnnual Meeting, “Food for Thought: How Choices Enhance Memory and Pleasure in Dining”, Dr. Judah Ronch encouraged us to ask the question, “How can the dining experience help elders to thrive?” Dr. Ronch, Dean of The Erickson School at UMBC, suggests that the brain is the “missing link” between dining and positive outcomes. Because our sensory memories go straight to the brain, as opposed to taking a pit stop in the language center to be altered before being stored, tastes and smells have a special ability to evoke strong emotional responses. In recognizing the emotional relationship with food, mealtime becomes not only a source of necessary calories and nutrients, but it also has the power to play a valuable role in achieving meaningful lives. Dr. Ronch explained that the potential positive outcomes can be optimized by expressing food preferences and balancing the brain’s desire to try new things.
While the experience of dining holds a number of opportunities for providing meaning in the lives of elders, meals in traditional long-term care tend to take the form of what Dr. Bill Thomas calls a “down-to-the-minute ballet”.  Food preparation and delivery is a large-scale, fast-paced, precisely-choreographed process, leaving little time (if any) to spice meals up with the principles of person-directed care. The Green House model, however, takes a radically different approach to dining, so as to support the “slow food” movement. The concept of convivium creates a shift in the traditional environment, philosophy, and practice surrounding meals that support the experience of sharing good food for pleasure.
So what is the recipe for successful convivium? Combine elder preferences with local foods, cultural traditions, and feedback from dieticians. Mix in a handful of family and community involvement, as well as ambiance to ensure that each meal is an occasion worth celebrating. And of course, the secret ingredient- a strong relationship and a true sense of knowing of each individual elder to ensure that his or her needs and wants are being met.
Consider how the meal preferences of each individual living in a Green House home may be valued and shared with all staff members, whether it is choices about flavor, meal time, or serving size. Build off of the innate emotional responses that are linked with food and take time to share memories or experiences with certain tastes and smells.  Finally, don’t let the ticking clock be a distraction from enjoying the company of others to feed the body and soul.  Bon Appétit!
**This post was written by Emily Duda, Project Associate at The Green House Project, as part of the Fighting the Dragon series.  This is a repeating topic addressing issues of Institutional Creep. Please let us know of issues you have encountered or opportunities you have had in combating institutional behaviors or ideas that are often lurking.