As the only charity of its kind representing older vegans and vegetarians, V for Life hears many stories of life in care settings for those with meat- and dairy-free diets. Shared with you here are a handful of those stories. We hear from a campaigner looking to a possible future in care, from a relative of someone who's beliefs were sadly not respected, and from a care home that goes above and beyond to cater for its resident's dietary requirements.
After experiencing health problems, Gill Gibbs became intolerant of dairy and gluten, and at the age of 48 chose to follow a vegan diet.
In 2014, VfL spoke to Gill about her concerns for the future, should she need care.
“I feel certain I would end up malnourished and hungry judging by the care homes I visit around here. I once stayed in a hospital in London. They had one vegan gluten-free meal available, but I sadly didn’t get to eat it because I came out of the operating theatre too late. All they had on the ward was apples, oranges and sandwiches, and no soya milk for my breakfast cereal. I had warned in advance about my diet but obviously the message did not get through."
Following this and other experiences with hospital catering, Gill set out to make a change.
“I have already spoken with my local hospital about the food and they seemed appreciative of my constructive comments. I also called in on three care homes. I went in, smiled and dressed smartly, and asked for the manager. I mentioned that I was in the area looking for care homes that could cater for a vegetarian or vegan resident. I said I had a heart condition and was getting organised for my old age! At least it made them laugh. Two homes signed up to Vegetarian for Life’s UK List as a result of my visit, agreeing to cater well and ethically for older vegetarians.
"I am looking to the future and campaigning for vegans to be accepted and recognised. I am very keen to talk to care homes, so I hope that I succeed.”
Douglas and Karen Grant
Douglas had been a vegetarian most of his life. He was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 85 and entered care. Sadly, his beliefs were not taken into account and when Douglas was served ham by his care provider, he had no memory that he had been vegetarian for over 50 years.
In 2019, VfL spoke to Mr Grant’s daughter Karen, who had been horrified by the treatment her father received.
“I found that really distressing – not because he had eaten meat but because it was about the lack of respect for his identity. Seeing a loved-one, especially a parent who you have looked up to all of your life, with dementia is difficult enough. So to know that one of the most fundamental parts about my dad (vegetarianism) had been forgotten or disregarded was distressing."
Ms Grant, who is vegan, has now made a Lasting Power of Attorney attesting her wishes.
“I want it to be made clear that if I have to go into a care home then I am not fed meat or dairy”
Harper Fields Care Home
In 2016, VfL reported on a very special autumn-themed vegan festival at a care home on our UK List. Activities Co-ordinator, Hannah Mulholland, wrote about what made the day so special.
“Being one of VfL’s UK List members, Harper Fields received a letter through the post from VfL, along with a free Vegan Rescue Pack. It explained that there are more than 70,000 over 65-year-old vegans living in the UK.
"This inspired us to show that we take all of our current and future residents’ dietary requirements seriously. So we had our very own outdoor autumn-themed vegan festival at Harper Fields, to coincide with World Vegan Day on 1 November!
"We served vegan hot dogs and onions, curried beans, jacket potatoes, mulled hot apple juice, hot chocolate and toffee apples. And I made my signature pecan pie with soya pouring cream. Everything served was 100% plant-based. The residents, staff and their families loved every mouthful, and there was not a morsel left and the end of the afternoon!”
If you're concerned about protecting your vegan or vegetarian identity and beliefs later in life, VfL has resources that can help. Our self-advocacy pack outlines the laws that safeguard dignity and choices in care, and details the steps you can take to ensure that you are cared for in line with your beliefs. We have guides designed especially for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, so no matter where you are, we have the right advice for you. You can also check out the later-life planning pages of our website.