Food Glorious Food?

Sharing meals allows us to come together and spend quality time with each other. It increases communication and understanding.  How many of us had our first experience of another culture through food? And coming together to prepare and eat food is part of many rituals and traditions. Food plays a big part in faith and in worship. When one shares in the Eucharist, it is said to be a  sharing of Christ’s body and blood, and worshippers are reminded of their responsibility to share all our meals with others. As St John Chrysostom once said, “You have tasted the blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognise your brother…You dishonour this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal.” Most faiths and religions have food rituals, most cultures have food rituals and norms. Food is significant. Food rituals – cutlery or lack of, how the food is produced (is it Halal? Organic? Vegan? Kosher?), how it is presented, how it is eaten – matter deeply to us all. The only people for whom those things no longer matter are the hungry, and even then I have known seriously hungry people refuse non-kosher or non-vegan food. So it is quite simply that important.

So…..

How many times recently have we heard about nurses now being expected to “feed and wash” patients for a year before they train? How many times do support workers and health professionals refer to “feeding” their patients or clients? The act of eating is reduced, for some, to the passive “feeding” offered by “carers”. It is reduced, for the care-givers, to a task to be got out of the way before the serious business of training, the important job of “nursing”, can be carried out. This simple attitude reduces human and humane care giving to the status of animal welfare. Now, let us acknowledge that there are similarities between the two, and animal welfare is very important. But in offering to care for and support other human beings we need to respect and acknowledge their humanity, and one of the few things that identifies humans as distinct from other animals is the development of specific and identifiable social rituals, especially around food, and the food rituals often define what we are as people: they indicate and specify how we live, what we believe, what matters to us.

The attitude that accepts us saying we are going to “feed” people when what we should  mean is that we are going to help them to eat or support them to eat is the same attitude that allows nurses and care givers to say things like “I have done Mrs Brown” when they mean they have helped or supported Mrs Brown to wash, or dress, or change her colostomy bag, or any of the other deeply personal, uncomfortable and intimate things carers do for us.  Those words, casually used and casually accepted, reduce our collective humanity, remove our independence. They remove the respect for our humanity that we properly expect our nurses and carers to demonstrate. They allow the casual neglect – and even the active cruelty – that we have seen in Winterbourne and at Stafford, and the many other places that have not yet hit the headlines. How can we pretend to be surprised by those events when we use the words that support the attitude of neglect and cruelty?

The words we use define how we behave, demonstrate how we think.  Let us challenge the use of words that encourage patient-passivity such as “feeding”, let us encourage the words that support active care such as “supporting, or assisting, to eat”. The former gives us a picture of food being shovelled into a patients mouth as a “carers” task, the latter gives us a picture of  someone in control of their food, being helped to perform their own task.  Notice the difference between “bathing” someone and “helping someone to bathe”.

When we become vulnerable through age, illness, disability or other reasons we often lose the option of privacy or dignity only because of the attitudes of the people tasked with supporting and assisting us. There are many discussions about why care can be poor, and often the poor wages are cited. And that is a factor – pay peanuts and you get chimps, and low wages do not reflect the importance of the job – but there is never, at any price, wage or  reward any excuse for reducing another persons humanity, for dragging away another human beings respect and trampling on their dignity. Individuals are responsible for their own behaviour and we should expect people recruited to care and support to behave properly – but the modelling of those good behaviours will flow from the leadership. If the people leading the services and the organisations do not demonstrate the crucial behaviours that indicate respect, humanity and the support of autonomy and independence for all then the people following those leaders will have no incentive to do so.

If you offer someone care and support, please, feed your dog but support your patient to eat.

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Comments

  • Betsey  On May 18, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Thknas for taking the time to post. It’s lifted the level of debate

    Like

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