The Family Kitchen: Why It Means So Much to Us at Atria
Posted on November 30, 2014 by Katy Miller
Rick Wigginton and I recently sat down for a chat about the idea of how great food experiences help restore a sense of normalcy and balance for older people. Rick has been helping families find the right place for their aging family members for years, and has a unique perspective on this topic.
KM: Let’s start simple. Tell me about the family kitchen concept.
RW: This is one of my favorite topics. A question I often ask of people around me is, “The last time you were at someone’s place, house, apartment or you had folks over to your place – before the night was over, where did you end up?”
KM: Always the kitchen.
RW: I have never had anyone tell me anything different from that. If they live in a city, if they live in the country, if they are north, if they are south – they’ve always had that same response. So many of our life experiences when we were little and as we grew up evolved and revolved around the table and food. Some of the happiest things we ever heard in our life were around the table. Some of the saddest things we ever heard were around the table. Some of the biggest fights we had with someone we care about were around the table. And some of the sweetest making up was around the table, too. Breaking bread around a table with other people is what helps keep us whole.
KM: Yes, definitely.
RW: So, when an older person outlives a life partner or they have raised their babies and the babies have moved off, a great chunk of what made life normal and well-balanced is now missing: laughter around the table, arguing about politics, talking about sports, just talking about normal stuff in life is now silent at most meals. For an older person who is becoming more and more isolated and shut apart, it’s difficult to know how to help that person still have a keen sense of independence and also a sense of purpose and belonging in the greater world. Keeping them isolated and shut apart certainly isn’t a good option. Want a fast way to help them regain a sense of normalcy and balance? Get more humans around their table – regularly! That’s why food experiences are so important to us at Atria Senior Living – it’s not just about three nutritional meals a day, it’s bigger than that. Anybody can do that. It’s recognizing that being a part of good food experiences is what helps make us whole again or keep us whole as humans.
KM: So, dining is a big part of the process for a new resident, yes?
RW: Absolutely, and it’s not just about coming in to the restaurant and sitting at a table and eating. It’s about us trying to create an environment of neighborliness and human interaction that isn’t necessarily with a caregiver. Let’s say the kids are trying to keep Mom at home as long as possible, but the kids are busy and they work, so they hire an hourly caregiver to come in and be mom’s aide. Mom sitting in a chair watching TV all day with an hourly sitter texting on her iPhone isn’t a good long-term fix. If you want to make someone feel old and frail fast, give them a babysitter! This is all with the best intentions of wanting to keep Mom as independent as possible, as long as possible, because she wants to stay in her own home. But, getting a babysitter as a long-term solution for an older person in their home does not prolong or contribute to true independent living.
KM: So, in our environment, we want to make sure that we give them the opportunity to connect with people of their own age and peer group.
RW: We want to give them the opportunity to choose to or choose not to. It’s a daily choice for them, “What do I want to do today? Nothing.” “What do I want to do today? Play cards, go shoot pool, go get a beer with some of the other guys during happy hour.” “What do I want to do today? Read the paper and play with the dog.” Okay, great – do it!
KM: I have noticed that in our communities, the dining room or restaurant is actually a pretty active place throughout the whole day, not just at typical meal times.
RW: Well, isn’t that just like in our own homes? Well – in most homes, unless you live in a New York City apartment where the girls store their sweaters and shoes in the oven, like my wife did. In most homes, particularly where there is family, the kitchen is the core, it’s the hub, it’s where you start, it’s where you end, everything is around that kitchen even if you are not eating, it’s around the kitchen. Our dining rooms and our restaurants in our communities are the same way. We will have music, speakers, current event discussions, food tastings and wine pairings, and the kitchen – our kitchens and dining rooms rarely shut down. Lonely, isolated living is replaced with good food experiences, stuff to do and people to do it with!
KM: Thanks for your time today, Rick. I’ve enjoyed learning more about the philosophy behind our emphasis on good food experiences.
RW: My pleasure.