Story 3: Congregate Meal Sites
Every time he went there to collect data for his research, he wished he didn’t understand Korean. If it made them feel helpless to be offered food they didn’t like, it made him feel equally incompetent when he told them he couldn’t help them turn spaghetti into steamed rice. The disappointment on their face was striking. They were facing each other as they ate, but the only thing that was warm was the plate of food; the only sound one could hear was that of the fork and the spoon. Time to go, he told himself. ***
Through the eyes of a graduate student, we see once again that food alone is not good enough. Under the OAA, there is a responsibility to provide at least 1 hot meal a day for those aged over 60. In the County of Los Angeles, for example, there are over 100 congregate meal sites. One stated goal of the OAA amendments was to stimulate minority elderly to participate in nutrition services by assuring cultural pluralism in meal services. Although ethnic meals (Cambodian, Chinese, Mexican) are available at some sites, many seniors actually don’t have a choice when limited mobility makes it impossible for them to go to a site where ethnic food is served.
Stigma associated with visits to congregate meal sites is another overlooked barrier. With our better educated and relatively healthier middle-aged individuals approaching old age, strategies to make food assistance programs, meal sites, and meal delivery options more attractive will be crucial to better service provision. Perhaps we could rename meal sites? How about child-friendly congregate meal sites for seniors who are trusted with grandparenting responsibilities but could also benefit from these services?