Why do older people enjoy food so much?

April 9, 2010


Today I took part in what has become a regular ritual for me and my family, eating lunch with my Nanna. One of the wonderful things that has developed over the last few years in my family has been a tradition of eating together. When my Nanna and Grandpa were younger (in their 60s and 70s) they lived about one hundred miles drive away, as they grew older into their 80s they took a big step in selling up their long-standing home and moving down to Sheffield to be with the rest of the family. It was a journey that my Grandpa found difficult to adjust to and within a year he had passed away to a better place. 

My Nanna, alternatively has adjusted well to the change and now approaches her ninety-second birthday this summer! She is frail, but my parents are brilliant with her and we regularly meet either at home or in a pub or restaurant to eat a sunday lunch together. It’s something very simple, but somehow especially fulfilling to come together at the table. It is a place of equality we all sit at the same level around the same table. It’s also a place of inclusion, of the senses and of communal warmth. We are a family together, old and younger. We are a tribe. 

Today, I took my Nanna out on my own and we had a splendid roast dinner at a local restaurant where the owners and staff, who are Thai and  English locals, are incredibly gentle, polite and kind with my Grandmother. It is  really encouraging and inspiring thing to see. Strangers being kind to others – respecting the elderly and helping the frail. 

Now here’s the thing, when I eat with older people although it is true they tend to eat less (although my Nanna polished off a dinner as big as mine today. It’s important to note she is just over 5′ and I am healthily over 6′), they still really enjoy their food! 

“Mmhhm…now that was a tasty piece of ham, today!” Nanna assured me with what seemed to be a highlight of the meal already lodging in her fading memory. 


My question is: Why do older people still enjoy their food? 

What’s the purpose of this phenomenon? I mean surely biologically from an evolutionary point of view after people reach a certain age they have fulfilled their evolutionary role in sustaining the gene pool. Admittedly, even now as frail as my Nan is, she can’t physically look after the rest of the family, but she still cares and takes an interest and offers a wise word of counsel or encouragement from time to time that helps you to realise that there is more to life than rushing to accomplish the next goal or task. But to be fair my Nanna now needs much more looking after by my parents (and occasionally I) than she can physically care for others. It’s the natural course of things. We are very glad and fortunate to have this privilege of being able to share with her, her verve for life, dynamism and cheerful company. 

Two elderly Italian sisters at work in the Kitchen

So why the obvious pleasure and delight at eating food? Why don’t you ever hear an older person say: 

“Dinner!! Dinner!! I’ve spent the last 70 years of my life eating dinners and lunch and breakfast! Three meals a day! I’ve had a life time of meals the last thing I want now is another dinner!” 

or “Food? I’m so bored with food. I can take it our leave it.”  

You don’t do you? At least I’ve never heard it happen. So, even when human’s withdraw from the wider competitive contributions to society that the world often judges us on – What do you earn? How many sales have you made? How many packages have you delivered? How many children have passed their exams?  How big is your house? Where do you holiday? Is your car a German designer model etc? People still can experience great pleasure and comfort in the smaller things of life, like a well-cooked meal and some good company. It’s a reassuring fact that in spite of great suffering this world remains a place of enjoyment and beauty, regardless of our economic value to the rest of society, whether we are young childen or old adults or any age between. 

When I was training to be a Religious Education teacher, one of the core subjects of the curriculum was what is called: “The Problem of  Suffering”. That is: If God is all loving, all-knowing and all-powerful, than why is there so much suffering in the world? Why doesn’t God do something about it? 

To be honest that’s a great question to explore thoroughly with young people in their mid to late teens. It raises a lot of debate, interaction and for many a rejection of the concept of God. I think it’s also a really important question for religious people to seriously think about and to hear others when they cry out that they can’t believe because of all the pain in the world. But there is also I think it is reasonable to say, another problem: ‘The Problem of Pleasure’. Perhaps it would good for us sometimes to ask the question: Why is this world so full of pleasure, sounds, colours, tastes, smells, feelings, beauty and light? 

I haven’t found this question in a text-book, but it still puzzles me and inspires me to think and laugh at the wonder of the world. Why all this beauty and sensual enjoyment? Why does my Nan look forward to lunch as much at 91 as she did at eleven years old or when she was twenty-three or forty-three?

I don’t know why, but it’s great that she does. It’s a funny experience, but one I am so grateful for, the chance to eat and chat regularly with my Grandmother at the meal table. I feel so blessed to have these opportunities and doubly so because I know that my Nanna enjoys them too.

(Apology: By the way the above photos haven’t been taken be me. They are from a stock images portfollio. Sorry!)


One comment

  1. But it’s TRUE – I’ve noticed that too and seriously we DO worry when anyone actually loses interest in eating – it does seem that they wish to withdraw from us.

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