As a society we have become completely spoiled when it comes to food. We consume it with hedonistic abandon, and treat it with very little respect. During the last couple of decades, our attitude towards food and eating has become completely skewed. In short, we take it utterly for granted.
Growing up in Ireland in the 80’s, money was short and people learned to make do with what they had. A pot of stew supplied four meals (two dinners and two lunches.) Sunday’s roast was refashioned into casseroles, curries and sandwiches. Nothing was wasted and nobody ever complained about eating the same meal two nights running.
I am now in the second week of a Lifestyle Coaching program I am running with a company in Dublin. When we launched the program, I decided I would take part along side them, and “walk the walk,” as it were. It came to the first weekend, and I was about to set off for my grocery shopping. In readiness for this, I was standing at the fridge, with a thrash bag in my hand, preparing to throw away all of the uneaten food from the previous week. To my astonishment, there wasn’t any! We had eaten pretty much everything. This is probably the first time EVER that this has happened.
My initial reaction was “oh my God, we nearly ran out of food, I better buy more this week.” But then it dawned on me, this was the first time I had actually gotten it spot on. If your fridge resembles Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard come shopping day, you’re doing it right. If, like me, you end up having to throw away a black bag of food, just so you can fit the new food, you are getting it terribly wrong! When the realisation of this sank in, I felt both shame and stupidity in equal measure.
So where does this wanton wastefulness stem from? I certainly wasn’t brought up with it, that is for sure. I am beginning to think our generation is plagued by the paradox of choice. So many available options causing us to devalue what we already have. It is the classic thing of going and buying €200 worth of groceries and then hitting up the McDonald’s drive thru on the way home. All of the food which was too tempting to leave of the supermarket shelves, instantly obsolete once a “better,” more convenient option has been presented.
Perhaps it is the remnants of our Celtic Tiger hangover, which has completely inverted our value system when it comes to food. At its most fundamental level, food is fuel. It powers every function in the human body from respiration to reproduction. Should it be enjoyable, yes of course it should. But pleasure is not its only function. We, as a collective, to have managed to completely separate food from its utility. We increasingly seem to want to eat purely for pleasure.
Clever corporations have cottoned on to this. It is impossible to turn on your TV, scroll through your phone or even walk down the street without a barrage of advertising messages assaulting you. Never before has overly processed, highly palatable, nutrient deficient “food” been so cheap or so readily available. Fast food outlets churn out obscene amounts of food to us, while we let our fresh produce rot in our fridges. It is not uncommon for typical families to be eating take out 2-3 nights a week.
We are being fooled into thinking that outsourcing our nutrition is the easy option. Believe me when I tell you, it ain’t. I brown bag my lunch every day, and have done for a good few years now. I have a few tried and tested menu options, which I know will fill me up and fuel my training. It does not bother me to eat the same few things all the time. I know what I need to buy each week, I prepare it quickly and I don’t have to think about it. It’s easy. If I didn’t bring lunch with me, I would spend the morning wondering what I was going to eat. I would have to go out to get it, which can be a pain in the ass. I would create stress worrying if what I was eating was supporting my goals, and I would be spending a fortune. The complete opposite of easy, if you ask me!
You might ask “do you not get bored eating the same thing?” and truthfully the answer is not really. Breakfast and lunch, for me, are utility meals. High quality food, in well constructed meals, designed to get me through the day. I know only too well that I a have limited supply of both decision making ability and creativity, so I prefer to use these for pleasure meals. Dinners with my husband and meals out with friends. Not every morsel we consume needs to be worthy of a death row dinner.
The last few weeks has given me a real opportunity to evaluate my own food behaviours. I have had some exposure to the homeless crisis in our Capital and wasted food really bothers me. However, I honestly believe that unless we revert to the old ways, we will keep on filling up those black bags. Unless we begin again to appreciate food and all that it does for our health and well being, we will keep allowing ourselves to be sold to. Big corporations do not care about our goals. It is up to us to be the gatekeepers of our own refrigerators. Be well xxx