Cooking guru Maggie Beer has turned her culinary prowess to the considerable task of dishing up better food for the elderly, whether they’re living at home or in aged care. With her team at the Maggie Beer Foundation, she’s coordinating a movement that will bring the healing power of food to those who need it.

“We want to give them the energy to create mobility… So many people in the industry are working so hard often without the support, without the newest thinking or ideas, without the specialised training and without being valued,” Beer explains.

Loneliness and hopelessness can be a challenge to good nutrition. The elderly – especially the bereaved – can struggle to rationalise the effort and expense of cooking for themselves. Not only is it demanding on time and energy, it can be a reminder of loss.

It’s not surprising frozen meals and food delivery services become attractive. But this brings us back to nutrition. “So many of them are ordering Lite n’ Easy!” Beer bemoans. “Nutritionally, it’s the exact opposite of what they need”, which is, among other things, full-fat meals high in protein and calcium.

Better food and better food communities represent a solution. Taking a meal is a traditionally communal enterprise that nourishes the body and the soul.

“Loneliness is a huge thing so we’re trying to bring people together – even once a month – to share a meal and be part of a wider community,” says Beer.

Passion also plays a part. Beer is in the business of cultural change and she wants a passion for food to be part of the solution.

She hopes for “a kitchen culture [in aged care] where chefs and kitchenhands are proud of the food that’s being produced.” This pride in creating beautiful food trickles outward. It creates more energetic residents, but also reveals to staff the therapeutic power of pleasure.

“It makes them [the staff] proud and celebrates those providing the food,” she explains.

Beer is battling against those who allow the elderly merely to exist rather than live a full, enriching life. So is the problem with food in aged care a symptom of the broader social malady – our collective attitudes to ageing?

“It’s endemic”, says Beer. “We need to find those industry leaders who don’t have the preconceived notion that the elderly can be cared for without soul…  I want to create a sense of outrage about [elderly people] who are merely existing.”

Cultural change is important to improve conditions for those in aged care right now. Beer is less concerned about the next generation of elderly.

“Baby Boomers have been making changes all their life – they won’t accept the status quo. But people need help and support now. They’ve lived hard lives and not complained. Now they need to feel valued.”

Beer is no slouch on the pragmatics of cultural change. Her strategy could have been pulled straight from Aristotle who believed ethical role models were necessary for good education. Beer is looking for examples of industry best practice to serve as benchmarks for others.

Using these benchmarks successfully will require leaders who are open to improvement – and a recommitment to the industry values that inform aged care.

“If you have a leader who knows how much good food can give to the resident pleasure and wellbeing, [it creates] a totally different attitude to those who see it as a means of keeping people alive… By finding the great examples, celebrating them and using them as benchmarks, there is so much we can do,” she says.

There are a number of such leaders around. Off the cuff Beer lists a range of projects she knows of or is involved with. From architecture to linguistics and gardening, progress is being made.

It isn’t just about changing the system, but each individual’s attitudes to include the elderly as part of the community. In that spirit, I ask Beer for three dishes every grandchild should be able to cook for their grandparents.

“It should be nutritious, but with lots of flavour and nostalgia”, she says. “Shepherd’s pie, a chicken soup with lots of vegies, and bread-and-butter pudding full of eggs, custard, and cream.”

The German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach quipped, “philosophers have broken their heads over the question of the bond between body and soul. Now we know… eating and drinking hold together body and soul, that the searched-for bond is nutrition.”

He seems to have found his muse.