Food Provision in Later Life Study - My Experiences

June 14, 2015

In the autumn of 2014 I was asked by Dr Wendy Willis of Herts University whether I would like to be part of the Advisory Group for a new research project looking at Food Provision in Later Life.


I was surprised to start with because, although I was interested in the research that was being proposed, I am not in any way an expert in this field and wondered what on earth I could input into the project to add value.


Wendy explained that she followed me on Twitter my community based experience that would be a useful addition to the study. I went to the launch meeting in January 2015 to meet the team, find out more about the advisory group and discuss the project in more detail. I'm not due to be invited to another meeting until much later in the year once there's something for the team to share. Although I don't feel I've added much value so far, being involved has lead me to think more about how my own family members feed themselves and how that has changed as we have all aged.


My dad had been a chef whilst he did National Service in Egypt. When my mum and he got married, although my mum could could cook the more traditional meat and two veg dishes that she had been bought up with, my dad taught her to cook dishes from around the world. That meant my brother and I were bought up with a wide range of dishes at a time when many of my friends had never tasted "foreign" food & I was quite surprised at some of my friends never having tried rice before. As I grew up, the area where we lived was pretty multi cultural and most our our high street was full of ethnic food shops and restaurants, my firm favourite was the Indian sweet shop.


Although I would cook sometimes, I usually did so only when I was already hungry so did something that took the least time to prepare. However most of the time I spent in our kitchen was chatting whilst we were cooking and eating or cleaning up. It was the most sociable place in the house. If we had friends over, we'd always end up in the kitchen.


We would always eat together when we were young but as we got older and we were all living different lives, my mum and dad would still always cook for everyone and leave it on the hotplate that we had, so I got used to coming home and helping myself to whatever was there whatever time of the day or night it was. It's the one appliance I've missed since leaving home, the hotplate kept food at the right temperature without drying it out. I've never found anything that worked as well as the one that was built into the kitchen at my mum and dads house. My mum has lived by herself for a while now and although a lot of socialising still takes place in the kitchen, she no longer enjoys cooking,  money is tighter for her, shopping is more difficult, it's not the same cooking just for yourself she says.


Once I had my own kids, I cooked for them every night, I would mainly cook from scratch with fresh ingredients, but I've never enjoyed cooking, it was always a chore but something that as a parent was important to me to do. We would always enjoy sitting round the table talking whilst we ate, trying new dishes. It's something my adult children say they still miss. No matter what we all did each day or how we were feeling, even when my kids were teenagers, we would always talk everything through together over the dinner table.


Now they're adults and are still at home on and off for various reasons, we are all busy, we are all responsible for our own food & we all feed ourselves very differently. My son is a personal trainer with an interest in nutrition, is just finishing off a Masters in Osteopathic Medicine & is a world champion powerlifter; he always cooks with good quality fresh ingredients and despite being a student & money being tight he never skimps on good quality nutritious food.


My daughter is very different, like me she doesn't like cooking, she isn't particularly interested in food either, she never thinks about eating breakfast, lunch and dinner but goes out and buys what she wants when she wants it, at the time she wants it and will buy convenience food if it's quicker and easier.


Now we are approaching 50, I rarely cook anything these days. I don't enjoy it, I have arthritis in my hands that makes it difficult. My husband likes cooking so when we're both at home he will cook, he is vegetarian so he cooks vegetarian food for the both of us. However, because we now both do a lot in the evenings, we will tend to grab a quick snack, not eat at all, get a takeaway or have a few sandwiches at a buffet or charity dinner. It's not ideal and not something we intend to do long term but being Mayor this year means we don't have much time at home.


We eat very differently now to when we were younger and I expect the way we eat will change again when we aren't as busy. In theory I would like to be like my lovely friend. She is in her late 60s and is preparing to retire from work. She is the most amazing cook. She cooks everything from fresh and never compromises on quality. She and her husband have a large allotment so grow a lot of their own produce. What they don't grow she buys from local markets. They rarely eat out because the food is never as good as what she makes herself. She is starting her own business, preparing freshly cooked food for people that they can then collect from her house for a suggested donation, which is a brilliant idea. She also has a few other ideas such as making her own bread & pasta to sell, doing sessions with kids. I'm hoping she doesn't start charging me when I go round to her place for dinner and a chat!


I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the study. If you're interested in finding out a bit more about the study, have a look at this video


Culled from



About Lynne Sparks


I have lived in Hatfield with my husband and 3 children for almost 20 years. My children are all adults now, with our youngest being profoundly disabled. I live with the daily challenge of ever present Rheumatoid Arthritis and the Fibromyalgia that comes with it. I work part time as a Flood Risk Management Advisor. I am a Borough and Town Councillor for Hatfield Villages ward, as well as being Mayor of Welwyn Hatfield.


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