Tim Lang, professor of food policy at Thames Valley University Scotland breaking ranks with the government over free care for the elderly is important not just for social policy but also food policy. It's vital that elderly people are well fed. The nutrients we need at the end of life are a different balance to those needed pre-birth or in adolescence. Carers for the housebound elderly know it can be hard to get them to eat. They may forget, get bored, not be hungry, or just miss eating in company. The social side of eating ­ today associated with café society ­ is in fact deeply rooted in human existence. Providing and sharing food are social acts. The meals on wheels service's origins in World War ll included the need to look after the rural elderly. Family networks were dislocated by the war effort, the absence of men and the urgency to win on the Home Food Front. The formidable WRVS stepped into the breach to deliver meals. Today, local authorities, often with voluntary sector partners, have responsibility for meals on wheels. Social services are gatekeepers. With tight financial pressures, the meals service has long been prone to cuts. One study found human contact was only 30 seconds per delivery. The food has become an end, not the means for social contact. The reality is that children do not necessarily live close to their parents. And there is only so much care that can be bought. Back in the 1970s, some food technologists thought the answer to feeding isolated elderly people lay in mailing sterilised food in retort pouches. They failed to appreciate the social aspects of food. So let's cheer the stand made in Scotland. The elderly of England and Wales, like the Scots, deserve a decent old age. Feeding them with social contact, not just the good food, is a right. {{NEWS }}