Getting older has never been this popular. More than 55 million Americans are 65 years of age or older and make up a higher percentage of the US population than ever before.
Baby boomers are a big part of it: Every day, 10,000 of them turn 65 until 2030, causing a “silver tsunami” of changes in the living industry for seniors.
Food plays an important role: many would-be residents today have traveled more and ate better than previous generations. The concept of three meals a day lends itself to the availability of all hours. Upscale, organic options like roasted apples and wild grilled cheese and gourmet burgers are replacing staple menus in aging communities like split pea soup and meatloaf.
This may seem like an upgrade, but many people would appreciate having a more diverse menu. More than 13% of older adults in the United States today were born in other countries. Many moved to America decades ago – and people from all over the world enjoy eating a wide variety of dishes. However, the traditional foods of your culture often remain essential components of what you cook and eat. So what are the options if you want to change where you live – move to a separate entity or assisted living Society – but not what you eat?
More roti, less mashed potatoes
Many seniors’ communities offer an international food theme weekly, such as Taco Tuesday or Italian Night. But the majority of the menu is still traditionally Western. This works for most, but not everyone.
says Iggy Ignatius, CEO of ShantiNiketan Retirement Communities in Tavares, Florida. “It wouldn’t be marinated the Indian way.”
While searching for a second career in social work, Ignatius noticed that many of his fellow Indians who had moved to America in the 1970s and 1980s did not want to retire to India and leave their children and grandchildren behind.
“There was a lot of the retirement societies in America, but there are no Indian retirement societies. “They served food, but not Indian food,” says Ignatius. “I saw it as a convenient place and thought, if I start something like this, maybe it’s my social work.”
Although it is not marketed as an exclusively Indian community, 100% of the residents of the 300-home community are Indian. Among these, many are vegetarians for religious or cultural reasons. As an optional addition to lodging, ShantiNiketan offers a food club. The board of advisors creates the menu and two chefs prepare the dishes. Lunch might be dal (lentil stew) with cabbage, potatoes, green beans, salad, roti (a type of flatbread), rice, yoghurt, and pickles. Dinner options include utapam (a pancake made from a mixture of fermented lentil rice), kol puri (a chickpea dish) and rada (potatoes, white peas and coriander).
The Shanti Niketan food club was a major factor in the decision-making process for Leela Shah, who came to America from central India in the early 1960s to study at college and built a life and family here with her husband, Atul.
“When we first came to America and adapted to Western cuisine, our weekly diet included American food, but we mostly eat Indian,” she says. “I worked hard all those years and wanted the choice to cook or not to cook if I wanted to in our later years.”
With backgrounds in pharmaceutical chemistry, the Shah was also concerned about nutrition.
“There is fancier food in other societies, but nutrition is important to us and here we can eat a balanced, healthy and affordable Indian food every day,” she says. “If it’s not seasoned the way we like it, we bring our own black or red pepper to make it hot.”
keep it hot
Diversity is always on the menu at Priya Living, an independent, Indian-inspired neighborhood community with four locations near Indian communities in California, and two more planned in Michigan and Texas.
Where in many seniors’ communities there is a central dining club, Priya Living has a “market” that is open from 8am to 8pm and offers a chai bar, a hot bar, a cooler section for fast food, and provisions that you can buy and cook in your room. It is mostly, but not exclusively, vegetarian Indian food, with some options of chicken, lamb, goat and international days comprising Italian, Mexican, Chinese and Indochinese.
“Besides price and design, the first question we get is, ‘What kind of food do you serve? Says Anjan Mitra, Chief Innovation Officer at Priya Living and former founder and CEO of Dosa, a popular Indian family-run restaurant in San Francisco. “The style of Indian cooking is completely different. It’s not uncommon for us to use 15 different spices in a dish, but they have to work with each other. People invest in food – they want it to be familiar – but they don’t invest in cooking it anymore.”
As a teenager, Yuji Ishikata took care of his old grandmother. Once a brilliant chef, she spent her later years eating home-style Japanese meals similar to what Ishikata now serves to seniors as the chef of the Nutrition Program at J-Sei, a Nikkei cultural organization in San Francisco’s East Bay area.
In addition to Japanese meals served in the 14-bed accommodation facility, J-Sei offers home lunches Monday through Friday for people aged 60 or over in their delivery area who cannot shop or prepare their own meals.
“Losing contact with the Japanese food they have eaten their whole life would be like losing their identity,” Ishikata says. “Whatever changes around them, food provides comfort, nostalgia, and intimacy.”
Ishikata sends out about 150 meals each weekday from a set monthly menu that includes teriyaki chicken with broccoli and unagi donburi, or eel on rice, Kazue Nakahara’s favorite.
For Nakahara, 76, a third-generation Japanese American, J-Sei’s meal delivery eliminates the huge amount of preparation and “fuss” that Japanese food requires Western dishes like spaghetti and meatballs.
But her real motive is convenience: Nakahara’s 80-year-old Japanese-born husband, Hidetaka, was drawn to his childhood food as he got older.
“Before he made fried eggs and bacon for breakfast. Now he prefers onigiri, or rice balls, and some miso. The older he gets, the more Japanese there are.”