Famous Aussie chef Maggie Beer has slammed aged care facilities over their meal choices for residents, claiming a mere $7 a day on food is unacceptable, as experts claimed malnourished residents are now “starving to death”.
The 74-year-old, who established the Maggie Beer Foundation to provide adequate and tasty meals for residents in aged care, hit out at facilities throughout the country during a royal commission hearing in Cairns this week for depriving residents of the essential food groups.
Maggie said the current food budget of $7 per person, per day, was simply not good enough and aged care homes should increase the amount by at least a few dollars to ensure they are maintaining a healthy diet.
“It’s not possible,” she told the royal commission on Tuesday. “Because they will have to – as has been discussed, use processed foods, frozen foods, frozen vegetables, fish that is usually frozen and imported, not even Australian. It’s just impossible.
“The minimum I would see would be $10 and $10, $10.50 is the minimum but that’s when every single thing is right. That’s when you have 25 passionate cooks or chefs that know how it costs no more money to be able to do things from scratch if they have a garden and if they have the processes in place that they can use the garden.”
The famed chef, who resides in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, continued by explaining cooks in aged care homes need further training to ensure they can properly spend the designated money to create adequate meals for residents.
She said there are many things that need to be taken into account when creating food for vulnerable people such as what meals can be easily digested and can give them pleasure in their old age.
“So often high care, the onset of dysphagia in so many, the inability to swallow that needs a totally different way of cooking, in terms of food that those people can cope with,” Maggie explained during the royal commission hearing. “So it’s specialised and there is no training.
“Their loss of taste as they age is something that we have to cope with, but we have ways of making up for that with the smells of home cooking, even no matter how big the home is, and it’s a home to me, not a facility.”
She added: “Every bit of sustenance should be of goodness but flavour first. Flavour, goodness and pleasure. Without those three things in equal measures they don’t have enough to look forward to to get up in the morning. And that is just so vital that we provide that.”
It came as nutritionist Dr Sandra Iuliano also spoke at the hearing, citing an Australian study that put the average per person per meal at $6.08, which fell short of the $8.25 spent in prisons.
“Unless there is an incentive to actually get those systems in place, I think we’re going to maintain the status quo which to me at the moment is not appropriate,” she said.
“It’s inadequate because basically these residents are malnourished and they’re starving to death.”
Dietitians Association of Australia CEO Robert Hunt claimed there’s now an epidemic in nutrition that must be focused more on, to help reduce the devastating impact of malnutrition.
“Access to food and nutrition is a basic human right, which is essential for the physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing for older Australians. Ultimately, food and nutrition must be a shared responsibility and Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) are the only trained professionals who are able to lead the solution to the malnutrition crisis in aged care,” Hunt said in the hearing.
“It has been tragic around what we’ve seen in terms of the safety of residents,” he added. “But for years and years and years this silent, faceless abuser called malnutrition has been around.”