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Aged, Anthropology, Cultural, End of life, Ethical issues, Nutrition



  1. Monturo, Cheryl PhD, MBE, ACNP-BC
  2. Strumpf, Neville E. PhD, FAAN


Food is significant from an anthropological and sociological perspective. The emotional and symbolic meanings of food, however, are rarely examined in the health care literature, nor are such meanings specifically linked to end-of-life treatments. The aim of this study was to explore the meaning, value, beliefs, and emotions connected with food and how a cultural model for older adults shapes this meaning related to end-of-life treatments. This article describes a qualitative study of older male veterans with terminal or advanced progressive illness perceptions and beliefs about food. Analysis of the data revealed a cultural model of community identity and social memory as described through food. The meaning of food was highly symbolic and temporal in nature. Given the historical struggle concerning the use of artificial nutrition at end of life, results of this study might provide a foundation upon which clinicians can explore the meaning of food in those with terminal or advanced progressive illnesses and incorporate this into end-of-life decision making. Further clinicians may address the need for nurturance and caring without the use of end-of-life treatments by focusing on physical comfort measures and the use of other nurturing activities to replace the "food connection" between the older adult and family.