Older women's experience of food-related occupations: A Canadian perspective

O'Sullivan, Grace
Hocking, Clare
Wright-St Clair, Valerie
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

Across time and culture women have been responsible for planning and preparing food in the home. This interpretive, descriptive study, conducted in rural Alberta, sought to uncover the meaning that the food-related occupations of Christmas hold for older women. It builds on previous studies completed in New Zealand (C. Hocking & V. Wright-St. Clair, 2001) and Thailand (C. Hocking, V. Wright-St. Clair & W. Bunrayong, 2002). Consistent with those studies, older women are the focus because their way of life is different from the way of life for younger women today. Also, consistent with the previous studies, this study focuses on a significant cultural event because it was anticipated that tacit understandings of the meaning of food-related occupations are made more evident in the context of an important family occasion. In the current study, twenty women aged over 65 years were recruited from the Canadian Women’s Institute to take part in three focus group discussions in April 2003. Data were analysed using open, axial and selective coding. Analysis showed that for older women food-related occupations such as planning, preparing and sharing food are a potent source of meaning in life. These meanings are represented in four themes identified as: Food of Love, Food of Culture, Food of Life and Changing Food Practices. Food of love reveals important aspects of the symbolic nature of food in familial and social relationships. Food of culture provides an explanation of the influences which shape cultural food traditions. Food of life points towards the real meaning of Christmas while changing food practices show how older women have adapted to, and adopted change in food-related occupations over time. In spite of their contrasting cultural backgrounds there were many similarities in the older women’s food-related occupations. When they talk about food practices at Christmas time their stories uncover dimensions of meaning that are shaped by familial, social, cultural, religious and for these women, geographical influences. These meanings seem to belong to older women’s ways of knowing their world. Planning, preparing and sharing food is shown to be a starting place for family traditions, an expression of caring, a means of making individuals feel valued, and a source of identity for older women. Food is also a means of bringing people together and building relationships. Older women gain a sense of competence and pride when sharing their knowledge of food preparation. Active engagement in food-related occupations is shown to be a source of meaning in later life and therefore a positive influence on well-being and life satisfaction. The implications of the study are limited given the uniqueness of the context and the individuality of the participants. The findings suggest family members of older women and professionals who provide health services should encourage older women to maintain abilities through occupational performance. The study provides academics from health and humanistic disciplines with recommendations for future research that will produce a greater understanding of people’s experiences. Suggested research directions worthy of further exploration are: The meaning of food-related occupations for older women who live in an urban area of Alberta, the connection between religious values and meaningful occupation, the relationship between geography and traditions in food, and generational differences in the meaning of food-related occupations.

Food habits , Home economics , Women -- Canada -- Social conditions , Occupational therapy for older people
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