Dining room becomes gateway to world’s cultures

IMG_9026 For a few months now, residents at Emporia Presbyterian Manor have been traveling the globe at mealtimes.

Last fall, the dining services staff launched A Meal in the Life, a yearlong program that spotlights the foods and culture of a different country each month. The goal is to serve more than food in the dining room, and make meals more of a shared experience.

A couple of meals each month are devoted to dishes from the selected country, said Atul Karki, dining services director. And at other special events during the month, residents continue to sample the featured customs and flavors.

A Meal in the Life kicked off in September with a focus on Russia — which is not necessarily known for its great food, Karki said, but learning about its history and people was interesting. The following months have highlighted Native American, Italian, and German food and culture. For February, the theme is African-American.

Every month, Karki produces a video featuring the sights, sounds, history, music, and fun facts of the featured country.

“In about half an hour, you know the culture,” Karki said. “The residents have loved it. They didn’t know that in Italy, they don’t eat pasta together with meatballs. They eat it separately, which is kind of different.”

Emporia Presbyterian Manor is one of 350 senior living communities nationwide that have set sail on this “cultural journey to explore various foods, traditions and customs from around the globe,” according to Morrison Community Living, the dining services company that developed A Meal in the Life and is the dining services contractor for the Emporia campus. In fact, Karki’s video travelogues are now being distributed to other communities that are also Morrison clients.

Dining Services has also hosted special events such as themed cocktail parties centered around the country of the month: wine for Italy, beer for Germany, and so on (with non-alcoholic choices also available). Karki said they try to schedule the cultural meals and events on days when many residents have visitors come to play cards or bingo, so the community at large can learn, too.

So far, the response has been positive. And Karki, who was born in Nepal and raised in Singapore, is learning right along with the residents.

“They’re excited about the new food and new things,” he said. “Some of the foods are completely new to me and to our chefs, too, so we thought we’d try them.”

Here are the themes this year:

February: African-American

March: Irish

April: Indian (eastern)

May: Asian Pacific

June: Caribbean

July: French

August: Japanese

September: Hispanic