One of my favourite things in a meal are the sauces which accompany the food. I love English mustard with ham, Tartare sauce with fish or a sharp Horseradish or home-made chutney or relish with other meats or cheese. It adds more flavour and a bit of excitement to the food. I also love lots of ground black pepper on almost every meal.
Yet, in recent conversations with a number of care home staff, all condiments have been removed from tables. This seems to be mainly because in the context of Covid19, different people touching the same bottle or salt and pepper pot represents an infection control risk. But, there is also an underlying message that somehow ‘they’, meaning the people living in the home and especially those living with dementia might come to some terrible harm from these condiments being easily available to them. It is the use of the word ‘they’ and ‘them’ a lot which really makes me prickle. Why Oh Why as we age or develop cognitive difficulties are we somehow regarded as so different to other human beings that a bottle of ketchup or vinegar is perceived as something which we really ‘shouldn’t’ be allowed? What honestly is the worst thing which could happen? Might someone mess up their shirt with the Ketchup or drink the vinegar? Regarding the cross-infection risk, can we not make sure everyone has washed their hands before the meal as would be recommended anyway?
This is a small but significant example of how we take away choice, independence and control from people. We do it because of a genuine desire to keep people safe, but in so doing, give individuals the message that they can no longer enjoy the same things we do. It is a process of ‘othering’ which is a dangerous slippery slope. and one which we need to question regularly and rigorously.